Utah’s first congresswoman, she also had a distinguished judicial career.
Reva Beck Bosone was the first woman in Utah to hold many of the positions to which she won election or was appointed during her long career. She gave her parents much of the credit for her success because they provided the same educational opportunities for her as for her brothers.
She was born April 2, 1895, in American Fork to Zilpha Ann Chipman and Christian M. Beck. She graduated from the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute (now Westminster College) in 1917 and later received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. After teaching school for several years she studied law at the University of Utah, receiving an L.L.B. degree in 1930. She had married fellow law student Joseph P. Bosone in 1929, and the couple practiced law initially in Carbon County. They had one daughter, Zilpha. They later divorced.
In 1932 Reva won election to the state legislature as a Democrat. The Bosones moved to Salt Lake City the following year, so Reva campaigned for reelection in 1934 representing a different district. Fellow Democrats named her majority floor leader. Her chief accomplishment in the Utah House was sponsorship of the minimum wage/hours law for women and children, which also set up the Women’s Division within the State Industrial Commission.
During 1936-48, as an elected Salt Lake City judge, Bosone became noted for the stiff penalties she handed out to traffic offenders. The National Safety Council recognized her for improving Salt Lake City’s poor traffic safety record. As a city judge she also promoted rehabilitation for alcoholics and served on the State Board for Education on Alcoholism. Rising juvenile delinquency rates during World War II concerned her as well. In a 1943 interview in the Deseret News Judge Bosone admonished parents, saying: “Before you have a child delinquent, you have delinquent parents…. The child’s actions and attitude toward life reflect his home teachings.”
She won election to Congress in Utah’s 2nd District in 1948 and again in 1950. She was a member of the House Interior Committee and supported various water, power, and conservation projects for Utah and the West. She also advocated women’s rights, Indian rights, and equal educational opportunities for all years before they were popular issues. For example, in a 1947 speech to a national women’s convention in New York she warned against legislation pending in some states that gave the entire disposition of community property to the husband.
Defeated in her 1952 reelection bid by Republican William A. Dawson, Bosone felt that her career had come to a standstill until the Subcommittee on Safety and Compensation of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor hired her as its legal counsel in 1957, a position she held until 1960.
In 1961 she was named the chief judicial officer of the U.S. Post Office Department. She heard cases involving mail fraud, tampering with the mails, and various postal regulations. When she retired in 1968 Postmaster General Lawrence F. O’Brien noted: “Judge Bosone has always been guided by a keen sense of justice and equity. Her ability in establishing the merits of a case is reflected in the extent to which her decisions have been affirmed in the federal courts.”
Bosone received many awards, including an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Utah in 1977. In 1970 UC Berkeley named her one of 39 outstanding graduates of the previous 50 years.
She died July 21, 1983, in Virginia.
Reva Beck Bosone
K. L. MacKay
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994
Reva Beck Bosone was born on 2 April 1895 to Christian Mateus Beck and Zilpha Chipman Beck, who managed the Grant Hotel and the Pioneer Opera House in American Fork, Utah. The tall redhead early manifested oratorical abilities and considered a career in the theater but instead turned to teaching. After receiving her education at Westminister College and University of California at Berkeley, Reva married Harold G. Cutler in 1920. The marriage lasted only one year. She continued to teach high school in Delta and then Ogden until 1927 when she entered the University of Utah law school. She married classmate Joseph P. Bosone in 1929. The couple had a daughter in 1930 and opened their law offices the next year in Helper, Utah. They were divorced in 1939.
Bosone lost her first case defending, but she gained recognition when she successfully defended two young men in a well-publicized case of attempted rape. The resulting notoriety helped her secure a seat in the Utah House of Representatives in the Democratic sweep of 1932. The Bosones moved their law firm to Salt Lake City and Reva became a member of the “progressive bloc” of state legislators who sponsored New Deal reform legislation including a minimum wage and hour law for women and children.
Bosone lost a bid for a seat on the Salt Lake City Commission but was re-elected in 1934 to the state house. She co-sponsored in Utah the Child Labor Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which failed ratification. In 1936 she ran for a city judgeship and became the first woman to be elected a judge in Utah. She served three terms and supported efforts to establish adult alcoholism and rehabilitation programs.
During World War II Bosone served on the Salt Lake County Welfare Commission and was chair of the Civilian Advisory Committee of the 9th Service Command of the Women’s Army Corps, which covered women in eleven western states. She was appointed an official observer at the 1945 organizing conference of the United Nations.
In 1948 Judge Bosone was elected to the U.S. Congress. She served two terms, running in 1950 against Ivy Baker Priest, who later became the U.S. Treasurer. While in Congress, Bosone became the first woman to serve on the Interior Committee. Continuing to be outspoken and energetic, she became involved in two major issues – reclamation projects and American Indian policy.
Bosone worked behind the scenes for the Weber Basin Project and more covertly for the Small Water Projects program that included securing the terminal reservoir on Deer Creek. She sponsored a bill which called for an investigation of the possibilities of Indians managing their own affairs “without supervision and control by the Federal Government.” The bill did not pass but the momentum for “termination” continued through the 1950s, resulting in a policy which eventually proved disastrous to those Indian tribes, such as the Southern Paiutes, who were involved.
Reva Bosone considered running for the Senate in 1952 against Arthur Watkins, but decided to try again for the House. The campaign was as intense and bitter as many across the country in these years of Republican resurgence and Cold War paranoia. Bosone was smeared with false charges of receiving kickbacks and being a communist sympathizer. The latter was related to her courageous vote against funding for the CIA. One of only four in the House to do so, Bosone explained that she was not willing to fund an agency which refused to provide information about its use of the funds.
Her loss to William Dawson in the 1952 campaign left Bosone emotionally and financially drained. She went on to pursue her law practice and worked as an office assistant. With the return of a Democrat to the presidency in 1960 she became judicial officer of the Post Office, the highest ranking woman in that department.
Bosone retired in 1968 and spent the years until her death in 1983 enjoying her family, maintaining a far flung correspondence, being a willing speaker at political and community events, and encouraging women to “raise more hell.”
See: Beverly B. Clopton, Her Honor, the Judge: The Story of Reva Beck Bosone (1980).