Josephine Corliss Preston - Women's History Month

Photo of Josephine Corliss Preston, circa 1915.

We are proud to celebrate Women’s History Month this March! To end the month, we have a story about Josephine Corliss Preston, an educator who went on to become the first woman elected to state office in Washington State. Josephine Corliss Preston grew up in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Early in her life, she learned how many immigrant students struggled with reading and writing in English, and thus began advocating for immigrants and education. 

At age 19, she and her family moved to Waitsburg, WA. Starting in 1896, Preston taught in Walla Walla schools and earned her diploma and teaching credentials. An avid community participant, Preston was involved in many professional and political organizations. Throughout her career, she was a suffragist and a vocal advocate for immigrants and rural educators.  

It was at this point when Preston’s public service career started to rise. She was appointed Assistant County Superintendent of Schools in Walla Walla County in 1904. Between 1908-1912, was elected five times as County Superintendent. In 1911, Preston was appointed to the State Board of Education. She was the first woman to be elected to a state office in Washington in 1912 as State Superintendent of Schools. Also, she became the third woman to serve as the President of the National Education Association in 1919. 

Preston’s achievements during her life included innovations that impressed many school systems nationwide. She improved teacher salaries, sought higher standards for teacher certifications, funding for schools, hot lunches for students, retirement funds for teachers, and much more.

Women such as Josephine Corliss Preston reminds us of the strong impacts women have made on our communities. TwinStar has humble origins in education when we started as Thurston County Teacher’s Credit Union. Staying strong to our roots in education, we respect the contributions of our local educators, especially our female-identifying ones.