Clopton, Beverly B. Her Honor, the Judge: The Story of Reva Beck Bosone. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1980.
A former Salt Lake City municipal judge and Utah legislator (the state’s first woman to serve in both capacities), Congresswoman Reva Beck Bosone blended a jurist’s authority and impartiality with a reformer’s commitment to improving people’s lives. “Do right and fear not,” Judge Bosone once advised a group of college graduates.1 As a two-term Representative who specialized in land reclamation, water projects, and the reform of the Indian Affairs Bureau, she legislated according to that motto.
The granddaughter of Danish immigrants and Mormon pioneers, Reva Zilpha Beck was born in American Fork, in the Utah Territory, on April 2, 1895, to Christian M. Beck and Zilpha Ann Chipman Beck, hotel proprietors. Raised in a comfortable household that encouraged learning, Reva Beck attended public schools and eventually graduated from Westminster Junior College in 1917.2 Two years later, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Reva Beck married the son of a prominent Utah politician, and they later divorced.3 From 1920 until 1927, Beck taught high school English, speech, and drama in several Utah schools. When she enrolled at the University of Utah, College of Law, in Salt Lake City, she met Joseph P. Bosone. For a brief stint, she taught English at the university. Reva Beck married Joseph Bosone in 1929 and, a year later, shortly before the birth of their only child, a daughter named Zilpha, Reva Beck Bosone graduated with her LLB. The Bosones relocated to Helper, a coalmining community in central Utah, where they opened a law practice together. The couple eventually divorced.4
Bosone remembered that the origins of her interest in political office derived from her mother’s admonition: “If you want to do good, you go where the laws are made because a country is no better than its laws.”5 In 1932 she became the first woman to serve in the state legislature when she was elected as a Democrat to the Utah house of representatives from a rural district.6 She won re-election in 1934, this time from Salt Lake City, where she and her husband had moved their law practice. Bosone rose quickly to the majority party floor leader’s post and chair of the sifting committee, which controlled the flow of bills to the floor. She secured passage of a women’s and children’s wage and hour law, a child labor amendment to the Utah constitution, and an unemployment insurance law. In 1936 she left the legislature and won election as the first woman to hold a Salt Lake City judgeship. Initially, she held a post in the traffic court and earned a reputation as a scrupulous jurist, leveling fines sometimes twice those of other judges and instituting a thriving traffic school and other programs to treat alcoholism. “Repeaters,” Bosone told the Associated Press, “go to jail.”7 After a year, she took over the Salt Lake City police court. The city’s traffic accident rates plummeted, and Bosone became a public favorite and a darling of the press for her tough approach. She won reelection in 1940 and 1944 and served in that capacity until her election to Congress. A talented public speaker, she also hosted a local radio program, “Her Honor—the Judge.”8 In 1945 Bosone was an official observer at the United Nations’ founding conference at San Francisco. She also served as the first director of the Utah state board for education on alcoholism.
In 1948 Bosone challenged one-term incumbent Republican William Adams Dawson for the U.S. congressional seat encompassing Salt Lake City and a sliver of the state that ran northwest of the city to the Nevada border. She recalled phoning the Salt Lake Tribune on impulse from her chambers: “I’m going to have my announcement in the paper tomorrow. I’m going to run for the U.S. Congress.”9 The campaign cost $1,250 and drew heavily on volunteers, Utah women’s organizations, and several women state legislators. Dawson had been a member of the Utah senate from 1940 to 1944. In 1946 he ran a successful campaign for Congress as nationwide the GOP gained 56 seats in the House and took a solid majority. Bosone ran as a “Fair Deal” Democrat, campaigning with President Harry S. Truman during his whistle stop train tour through Utah and broadly supporting his domestic and foreign policies, especially U.S. involvement in the United Nations.10 She also took a keen interest in soil conservation and reclamation, important issues for her Utah constituency. Enjoying wide name recognition, Bosone ran ahead of Truman on the ticket, winning 57 percent of the vote and becoming the first woman to represent her state in Congress.11 Nationally, Democrats regained their House majority.
When Bosone took her seat in the House for the 81st Congress (1949–1951) in January 1949, she was offered a spot on the Judiciary Committee, a plum assignment for a freshman with her background and a panel on which no woman had served. But she turned it down and persuaded reluctant Democratic leaders to put her onto the Public Lands Committee (later named Interior and Insular Affairs), a seat more important to her western district.12 In the 82nd Congress (1951–1953), Bosone also served on the House Administration Committee.
The bulk of Congresswoman Bosone’s legislative initiatives came from her Interior and Insular Affairs assignments on the Public Lands and Indian Affairs subcommittees. In April 1950, she introduced a bill “to start the wheels turning to take American Indians off Government wardship.”13 Though unacquainted with the issue prior to coming to Congress, she was inspired by Native Americans’ testimony before the committee and several visits to reservations. The measure authorized the Secretary of the Interior to commission a study to determine which Native-American tribes should be removed from under the supervision of the Indian Bureau and granted control and management of their affairs. Critics warned it would repeal vital federal protections for Native Americans enacted in the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, but the measure still passed the House.14 It failed, however, to gain Senate approval.
From her Interior seat, Bosone hoped to promote land management, reclamation, and water control efforts through proposals such as her Small Water Projects Bill, which would have established a revolving fund to pay for modest reclamation projects.15 She also helped pass the Weber Basin Project, which provided water to northern Utah. In a move unpopular with conservation groups, Bosone tried to include the proposed Echo Park Dam as part of the Colorado River Project, though the plan eventually was rejected because Dinosaur National Monument, in the upper reaches of Grand Canyon National Park, would have been submerged.16 During Bosone’s congressional career, she also aided the unsuccessful effort to build Hell’s Canyon Dam on Idaho’s Snake River. In addition, Bosone took an interest in overseas territories, supporting Hawaiian and Alaskan statehood and voting for a Puerto Rican constitution in 1952 that contained a controversial provision that opponents labeled as socialistic.17
Congresswoman Bosone supported a range of legislation that did not always accord with her conservative-leaning Salt Lake constituency. She favored extension of Social Security and funding for public housing for military personnel, as well as the creation of a national health care system.18 Bosone voted against the Subversive Activities Control and Communist Registration Act, believing the government had overstepped its bounds. In 1949 she opposed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Act on the grounds that it invested too much power in an agency that operated under minimal congressional oversight.19 While fellow Members feared they would be tarred as communist sympathizers if they opposed the measure, Bosone was one of only four ‘No’ votes for the bill. She declared, “I vote my conscience.”20 In December 1950, weeks after the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, she argued that mandatory price and wage controls be put into place to check the rising cost of groceries and to stem inflation.21 Bosone once observed of the role of a Representative, “the job should be done, whether the required course of action is popular or not. The biggest need in politics and government today is for people of integrity and courage, who will do what they believe is right and not worry about the political consequences to themselves.”22
Shifting electoral sands and Bosone’s only significant stumble during two decades of public office conspired to bring her House career to a sudden close. In 1950 she had won a second term by defeating Republican National Committeewoman and future U.S. Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest with 53 percent of the vote. In May 1952, as Bosone geared up to campaign for a third term in a “grudge fight” rematch with GOP candidate William Dawson, reports emerged that she had illegally accepted $630 in campaign contributions from two staffers.23 Bosone and her aides claimed the contributions were voluntary, that Bosone had been unaware of the law, and that the money was unspent. The Justice Department eventually cleared Bosone of wrongdoing, but press coverage proved damaging. Dawson pounced on the allegations of campaign malfeasance and also implied that Bosone was sympathetic to communism because of her support for social welfare programs and her opposition to the CIA Bill.24 He also benefited from GOP presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower’s long coattails. Bosone ran better than Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson but lost 53 to 47 percent. The entire Utah delegation went Republican, and the House swung back to GOP control.
After leaving Congress, Bosone resumed law practice in Salt Lake City. She hosted a four-day-a-week award-winning television show, “It’s a Woman’s World,” which highlighted topics of interest to women. In 1954 she again ran for Congress in her old district, winning the Democratic primary by a more than two-to-one margin. She lost, however, in the general election to Dawson, 57 percent to 43 percent of the vote, despite the fact that Democrats ran well nationally and wrested control of both chambers of Congress back from the GOP.25 From 1957 to 1960, Bosone served as legal counsel to the Safety and Compensation Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy named Bosone the U.S. Post Office Department’s judicial officer and chair of its contract board of appeals.26 She held these posts until her retirement in January 1968. Late in life, Bosone lived with her daughter in Vienna, Virginia, until her death on July 21, 1983.27
1American Mothers Committee, Mothers of Achievement in American History, 1776—1976 (Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle and Company, 1976): 531.
2Reva Beck Bosone, Oral History Interview, U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress (hereinafter USAFMOC), Manuscript Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.: 61.
3Bosone, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 94.
4Richard Pearson, “Reva Boscone [sic], First Woman Elected To Congress From Utah, Dies at 88,” 24 July 1983, Washington Post: B10. Bosone’s early life is amply covered in several chapters in Beverly B. Clopton, Her Honor, the Judge: The Story of Reva Beck Bosone (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1980).
5Bosone, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 1.
6Mary Van Rensselaer Thayer, “Ex–Alcoholic Gave Reva Bosone a Cocktail Shaker; She Won‘t Use It,” 4 January 1949, Washington Post: B6.
7“Woman Judge Routs Speeders,” 25 September 1937, Washington Post: 3.
8Jean Bickmore White, “Bosone, Reva Beck,” American National Biography 3 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 222—223.
9Bosone, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 3.
10For more on this aspect of the election, see Clopton, Her Honor, the Judge: 132–134.
11Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
12Bosone, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 11; 4–5.
13“Measure to ‘Free‘ Indians Is Offered,” 22 April 1950, New York Times: 10.
14Congressional Record, House, 82nd Cong., 2nd sess. (18 March 1952): 2492. See also Robert C. Albright, “Lady Legislator Has Indian Bureau Lobbying Itself Out of Business,” 13 August 1950, Washington Post: B2; Congressional Record, House, 82nd Cong., 2nd sess. (9 May 1952): 5450–5451. Bosone argued that her bill would force the Indian Affairs Bureau to “shift its 100-year-old basic policy from taking care of the Indian to a policy of letting the Indian take care of himself as soon as he is able.” For criticism, see Harold Ickes, “Bosone Plan for Indians: Attack on Rights,” 17 September 1950, Washington Post: B4.
15“Reclamation Bill Filed,” 15 February 1951, Washington Post: 31.
16For an account of the proposed dam project, see David J. Webber, Outstanding Environmentalists of Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 2002): 73—74.
17Congressional Record, House, 82nd Cong., 2nd sess. (28 May 1952): 6172—6173.
18Alexander R. George, “Hoover Reorganization Plan Ranks No. 1 on Lady Legislators‘ Lists,” 3 July 1949, Washington Post: S4.
19Karen Foerstel, Biographical Dictionary of Congressional Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999): 34.
20Bosone, Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 9.
21Congressional Record, House, 81st Cong., 2nd sess. (15 December 1950): 16649.
22Hope Chamberlin, A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress (New York: Praeger, 1973): 208.
23“Slates Are Chosen for Utah Primary,” 4 August 1952, New York Times: 9; “Mrs. Bosone Admits Gifts in House Race,” 24 May 1952, New York Times: 26; “Josephine Ripley,” McGranery Fraud Blast Fired with Modest Pop,” 28 May 1952, Christian Science Monitor: 7; “Justice Drops Probe of Bosone Case,” 5 September 1952, Washington Post: 44; “Legal Bar Prevents Bosone Prosecution,” 15 October 1952, Washington Post: 17. See also Bosone‘s recounting of the episode in her Oral History Interview, USAFMOC: 43—46.
24Clopton, Her Honor, the Judge: 199—218.
25“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
26Alvin Schuster, “Woman Is Chosen Postal Law Aide,” 24 February 1961, New York Times: 8.
27Pearson, “Reva Boscone [sic], First Woman Elected To Congress From Utah, Dies at 88.”
Clopton, Beverly B. Her Honor, the Judge: The Story of Reva Beck Bosone. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1980.
"Reva Zilpha Beck Bosone" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.