Washington abolishes the death penalty on March 22, 1913.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 6/13/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5471
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On March 22, 1913, Governor Ernest Lister signed into law the abolition of the death penalty in Washington. The act was sponsored by Seattle Representative Frank P. Goss. The death penalty will be enacted again in 1919.

Between 1904, when the state began handling executions by hanging, and 1911, 15 criminals had been put to death at the State Penitentiary at Walla Walla. After women were granted the right to vote in Washington in 1911, the Legislature was swept up in a wave of reform. Bills to enact an eight-hour day for coal miners, to ban red-light districts, and to establish vocational schools were offered.

Representative Goss first offered a bill to abolish capital punishment in 1911, but it was narrowly defeated. In 1913, Goss filed the bill again. The State House of Representatives debated the issue hotly for several hours before voting to limit the penalty for first-degree murder to life imprisonment. Goss proclaimed "in a masterful speech of over one hour," (P-I)) "I deny the abstract right of a government to take a life. I recognize only one right to kill and that is in self defense."

In 1919, a more conservative legislature reenacted the death penalty.


"Goss Wins Fight Against Hanging," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 21, 1913, p. 7; Sessions Laws of Washington, 1913; Richard Berner, Seattle 1900-1920 (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991, pp. 173-174.

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