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The histories behind the Federation

Washington Press Association History

"Let's Make Washington Press Women Something to Crow About" was the footnote added to the original summons issued by the National Federation of Press Women. The summons was for the Washington Athletic Club on Sunday, May 12, 1946. This was the beginning of what became one of the largest Press Women's organizations in the United States with over 350 members at its peak, according to Nell Mitchell's 30-year report.

The first officers elected were: President Martie Wheeler, Waitsburg; Vice President, Lulu Fairbanks, Seattle; Secretary, Ursula Williams, Pasco; Treasurer, Virginia Fayne, Everett; Membership, Bonnie Pierce, Yakima; By-Law and Legislative; Mary McMinn, Kent; International Relations, Lulu Fairbanks; Contest, Vera Morris, Mercer Island; and Historian, Lulu Fairbanks.

Membership was opened to men in 1972 and Phil Weber, an award winning photographer with the Seattle PI, was the first male to join, resulting in the organization changing its name in 1980 to the Washington Press Association.

black and white photo of Washington Press Association members talking
purple jagged-edged circle with text 80 years in black and in white, around the edge above 80, dates of the orgnization.

A proclamation from Washington's governor declared June 21-27, 1987 as National Federation of Press Women's Week to honor the 50th anniversary of NFPW's founding. That year Miki Gilliland was appointed to direct the NFPW Literacy Project; Barbara Nilson was named NFPW Youth Projects director.

In 1988, WPA established a new professional award, the Communicator of Promise, for a beginner; took an active part in lobbying to keep writing income from being subjected to the provisions of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, and held a first ever joint meeting of three professional press organizations: WPA, Society of Professional Journalists and Women in Communications Inc. That same year Jean Wiley Huyler was named NFPW's Woman of Achievement. WPA presented life memberships to both Hilda Bryant, 1969 NFPW Woman of Achievement, and to Huyler.

The 1990's were active years with a state-wide Communicator of Excellence Awards contests, "Judgement Day," each year both for professional journalists and high school newspaper students, capped with a banquet and awards ceremony. Our newsletter, Copyhook, came out on a regular basis filled with organizational news; an active Jobline Program/Networking was initiated; fall Writer's Retreats were held along with monthly meetings aiming at subjects i.e. Contest Clinic, Stress Reduction, Forums etc.

In 1991, for the first time in five years, a fall conference was held; and in 1993 a joint conference was arranged with Oregon Press Women at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington. In 1994, WPA swept the national communications contest, was recognized for the most new members and the largest percentage gain in membership, established a Communications Center and JobLead Service. In 1995, members gave a $1,000 grant to help send a Washington State student to NFPW's National Journalism Scholarship Academy in New Jersey.

WPA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 by hosting NFPW's fall board in Seattle, with Larry Workman as president assisted by Sharon Berg and Barbara Nilson, Keynote speaker was Jennifer James. A pre-tour led by Nilson went around the Olympic Peninsula and a salmon bake was hosted by the Quinault Indian Nation under the direction of Workman. (Workman joined WPA in 1982 and served in many capacities including secretary, president and assistant director of the NFPW conference in Seattle in 2005.)

color photo of group in the woods listening to a park ranger

Other highlights recalled at their 50th anniversary celebration were:

Myrtle Wheeler of Waitsburg served as the first president; Layne Pirie, Renton, won the 1947 contest to name the newsletter "The Copy Hook", membership peaked in 1973 with 360 members; Jean Huyler was elected president of the National Federation of Press Women in 1975, and Eric Nalder, a local newspaper reporter, was the first male to serve as WPA president.

WPA President in 1996, Larry Workman, wrote in his column for NFPW Agenda: "Our 50th anniversary is proving to be a very busy year as we take a hard look at our organization and reevaluate who we are. Our membership has declined this year and we have too few doing too much.

"As we examine our role for professional journalists, we continue with a busy and exciting schedule of activities. We held a weekend fall retreat at the wonderful Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, one of the stops on the Fall Board pre-tour. Nearly 450 entries were made in our professional contest with nearly 180 people attending the awards banquet in March. Ruth Wilson, a charter member of Washington Press Women spoke briefly to the gathering before the awards program highlighting our 50 years as a professional organization . . .

"Electronic and print forums in April helped raise funding for our scholarship program and students. Our youth contest remains popular and we hold an awards banquet the first Saturday in May in Tacoma . . ."

By 1996 the worker bees were becoming fewer and fewer and the remaining officers really needed the "stress clinic" they hosted. A questionnaire "To Disband or Not?" was sent out to members. On October 12, 1996, the WPA Executive Board met at the NFPW conference in Seattle hosted by WPA and reviewed the results of the questionnaire: 51 out of 103 mailed returned the inquiry: eight voted a flat yes, disband; 10 voted to disband if there weren't more volunteers; 33 voted not to disband. Many stated how much the organization had meant to them, especially when they were just starting out in their profession. ..The Board voted to keep WPA an active organization at least until June 1997. At NFPW's 60 anniversary, WPA President, Helen Szabla, was named "Outstanding Affiliate President.

Around the turn of the century, NFPW called asking WPA to host the 2005 conference in Seattle. A committee was put together led by Larry Workman. NFPW/WPA's conference, SOUND BYTES IN SEATTLE, was held at the Renaissance Hotel, Sept. 8-10, 2005. It was followed by a three-day post tour of the Olympic Peninsula with a salmon barbeque hosted by the Quinault Tribe at Taholah.

This conference was WPA's last hurrah. The office in Renton closed in 2010 after an awards luncheon at the Museum of Flight in Seattle in 2010.

Past presidents: 1946-47 Mertie Wheeler; 1947-49 Ursula Williams; 1949-51 Mary McMinn; 1951-53 Charlotte Farrar; 1953-55 Ruth Wilson; 1955-57 Lulu M. Fairabanks; 1957-59 Louise Stack; 1959-61 Frances Phinney; 1961-1963 Norma Russell; 1963-65 Pat McGee; 1965-67 Selma Therriault; 1967-69 Lettie Gudmestad; 1969-71 Bette Filley; 1971-73 Jean Wiley Huyler; 1973-75; Eric Nalder 1975-76; Muriel Little; 1976-78 Mary Weber; 1978-80 Jeanne Edwards; 1980-81 Jean Smith; 1981-82 Linda Bryant; 1983-84 Barbara Pattison; 1984-85 Arline Andre'; 1985-86 Karen Hosfield; 1986-87 Rick Skinner; 1987-88 Helen Szablya; 1988-89 David Suffia; 1989-90 Miki Gilliand; 1990-91 LouAnne Kirby; 1991-1992 John Hostvedt; 1992-95 Barbara Nilson; 1995-96 Sharon Berg, 1996-1997; Larry Workman; 1997-98 Terri Briere; 1998-2000 Andrew Wahl; 2000 Larry Workman again.