homicide, entitling his wife to his pension. 26 Forbus would later admit that if
she’d been older and “had any sense,”
she never would have taken on the department and the prosecuting attorney
at the time. 27 In all likelihood, the case
torpedoed the bid she made for prosecuting attorney two years later.
The next few decades would see Forbus balancing a growing list of civic
responsibilities with her legal career.
In 1922, Forbus argued before the state
Supreme Court in the matter of a partnership estate (see In re Grecorin’s Estate, 122 Wn. 446, 210 P. 785 (1922)).
Over the next 20 years, she twice ran
(unsuccessfully) for a King County
judgeship. 28 In 1942, Forbus was
elected to the State Senate. She served
a three-session term and was asked,
without solicitation, to chair the Judiciary Committee. 29 In 1945, she was
again elected to the Senate; this time,
she was the only woman elected to the
Senate across the state.
A Lawyer First
Throughout her legislative career, Forbus maintained her law practice. She
never left the practice of law, even if it
meant traveling from Olympia to spend
Friday nights in her Seattle office, catching up on mail and file notes, using the
weekend to contact clients, then heading
back to Olympia at four in the morning
on Monday. 30 While serving as a freshman senator and running her practice,
she also provided for her two daughters,
as she had divorced her husband almost
a decade earlier. When asked how she
did it, Forbus gave a typically lawyerlike answer: “Well, they used to call me
a workaholic.” 31
It would be easy to praise Forbus for
her accomplishments simply because she
was a woman working in a male-dom-inated profession at a time when most
women struggled to finish high school.
Yet Forbus herself would likely take is-
sue with such characterization. A con-
sistent theme runs throughout Forbus’s
interviews: She repeatedly emphasizes
she succeeded because of her hard work
as a lawyer and legislator, not because of
or despite her gender. For example, when
asked in a 1983 interview whether she en-
countered any special problems as head
of the Judiciary Committee because
she was a woman, Forbus seemed taken
aback, almost puzzled by the question.
Her response: “Why no, I was a lawyer. I
wasn’t a woman, I was a lawyer.” 32
Indeed, Forbus seems to not have
considered the fact she was the lone
woman with her own legal practice at
a time when most women were without
college degrees; rather, she was just an-
other attorney working in Seattle. She
“was not conscious of any reaction” to
her position as Seattle’s sole female at-
torney; rather, she “was treated by the
judges as just another lawyer…” 33
In fact, at one point in the 1983 interview, Forbus reproached the interviewer
for what she perceived as an attempt to
“tint” the article/interview on a “woman
basis.” Forbus chided: “I would not like
that at all, because it wouldn’t be true in
the first place and I would very much resent it because I feel that I was a lawyer,
I’ve been a lawyer since 1918, right here
in Seattle, and I’ve built up my practice
and made a good living out of it and educated two children out here at this university with the avails of a practice.” 34
But Forbus also made clear there was
one organization she felt could not get
past the idea she was a woman practicing law who wanted to be a judge: The
Washington State Bar Association.
Forbus thought her failed attempts to
secure a judgeship could be blamed, in
part, on the WSBA. In those days, she
explained, “they were very much opposed to women on the bench….” 35 In
her first run for judge, she was defeated
in the primaries; but the second time,
she “of course” lost in the final election
of the Bar Association. 36 According to
Forbus, the trick to a woman getting
elected a judge was first being appointed to the bench, thereby circumventing
the Bar altogether. 37 Forbus thought the
appointment gave female candidates “a
good head start,” allowing them to then
be elected when they ran. 38
Fortunately, whatever obstacles
Forbus encountered from the Bar did
not keep her from practicing law for 65
years. And though she may have never
been a judge, she did manage to keep
her bar card active until the age of 92.
Lady Willie Forbus died in her Magnolia
home in Seattle in 1993 at the age of 100.
She will be remembered as a senator, a
workaholic, a barnstormer, a woman, a
mother, and — perhaps for her, most importantly — a lawyer. NWL
is a prosecuting
Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
She graduated from Willamette
University College of Law, where
she filled her days with the usual
song and dance of Law Review,
moot court, and three years of being
class president, in contrast to her
undergraduate days when all she
did was play basketball. Ludwick
looks forward to being as involved
in the WSBA community as she
was at Willamette and to using
today’s technology in her practice
of law. She can be reached at katie.
1. Monica Wooton, Snapshot in Time: Lady Willie Forbus, Magnolia Historical Society, Apr.
1, 2012, www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.
3. Kathleen Moles, Lady Willie Forbus is admitted to the Washington bar on May 24, 1919, HistoryLink.org, Nov. 18, 2014, www.historylink.
7. Wooton, supra n. 1.
8. Transcript of interview by Kathryn Hinsch
with Lady Willie Forbus for the Women in
Washington State Legislative Oral History
Project, in Seattle, WA at p. 4 (Nov. 7, 1980).
10. Wooton, supra n. 1.
11. Moles, supra n. 4.
12. Transcript at p. 2.
13. Mary Ann Gwinn, “A Century of Vision —
‘Old-Fashioned Liberal Populist’ Lady Willie
Forbus Retains Her Commitment To Social
Justice At Age 100,” The Seattle Times, Aug.
30, 1992, http://community.seattletimes.