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Dec. 5, 2021

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Clark County History: Ella Wintler, state legislator

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Graduating from the University of Washington in 1910, the year the state gave the vote to women, might have foreshadowed Ella Wintler’s political career as a state legislator. But before entering politics, she’d spend decades as a teacher.

Wintler (1885-1975) was the ninth child of John Wintler and Sarah Butler Wintler. Her father sailed to Vancouver across the Isthmus of Panama. Her mother reputedly drove a team of mules from Missouri to the city with the intention of selling them and returning. Instead, Sarah married Wintler, a widower with five children who ran a harness shop.

Surrounded by brothers, Ella enjoyed exploding firecrackers on Fourth of July holidays. She and two brothers graduated from Vancouver High School in 1903. From then until 1906, she taught school at Lake Shore and bicycled to class. She also taught short stints at Rock Creek and Charter Oak.

At the University of Washington, Ella majored in English and German, and earned a master’s degree by attending summer sessions. She taught in Mount Vernon for six years and returned to Vancouver in 1916 to teach at Vancouver High School until 1950.

In 1938, she dove into politics as a Republican candidate a spot in the state House of Representative for the 17th Legislative District. Her first session cost her $500 out of pocket, including her campaign, living expenses and miscellaneous costs.

Wintler’s second session wasn’t until 1943. She served on the military affairs committee. She believed in supporting the local government of the citizens who elected her and claimed she voted for what she thought best for everyone in her district, her state and her country — which is why she voted against raising the sales tax to 4 percent and against enabling cities to add extra sales taxes to improve local revenues. Redistricting in 1959 moved her to the 49th District.

During her seven legislative sessions, she served on the appropriations and education committees. She also served on the forestry and veteran affairs committees. Wintler helped push through a vocational building for the Washington School for the Deaf and a swimming pool and gym for the state school for the blind.

Being on the liquor committee, however, didn’t appeal to her, although she said in an interview that certain legislators found it appealing when they received quart-bottle gifts. For the 1963-65 term, the House of Representatives elected her speaker pro tempore, thanking her for her service to the state. She’d served more terms than any other member of the House. Despite the honor, she said she preferred just being a legislator.

Although in politics, Wintler didn’t enjoy politicking. She often complained that people believed lawyers made good legislators, but that she thought they delayed bills because each speech they made was aimed at campaigning for the voters back home.

During her legislative career, Wintler earned the reputation of being one of the House’s hardest workers. When the Legislature gave her an award for her service, Rep. Dan Evans, who would later become governor, said “Vancouver showed good judgment” electing Wintler. Overwhelmed by the standing ovation, she understood it signaled her retirement.


Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

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