On January 10, 1955, injured State Representative Margaret Hurley (1909-2015) is wheeled into the state capitol building in Olympia to cast the decisive vote to elect Democrat John L. O'Brien (1911-2007) as Speaker of the House. Hurley's foot is in a cast because the Democratic representative from Spokane and her entire family were injured in a head-on crash near Cle Elum on their way to Olympia two days earlier. This accident has serious political repercussions, since the Democrats hold only a 50-49 majority for the 1955 session and her vote is crucial. The Seattle Times reports on January 9, 1955, that "it was doubtful that she could proceed to Olympia" and that her absence "could upset" the Democratic leadership slate (Cunningham). Yet Hurley gamely makes it to Olympia and is treated at an Olympia hospital. During the opening day's session, she makes a dramatic entrance in a wheelchair and casts the ballot that swings the speakership to O'Brien. O'Brien, in his acceptance speech, calls her "a real trouper" and says she has "my undying gratitude" (Guthman).
The crash occurred on January 8, 1955 and injured nine people in two vehicles. Representative Hurley was riding in a car driven by her husband, Joseph E. Hurley (1910-1968), a former state representative. They were accompanied by all four of their children and a family friend. They were on the way to the legislative session via Snoqualmie Pass when an oncoming car hit a patch of ice and collided head-on with the Hurley vehicle about three miles east of Easton.
Everybody in both cars was injured. Joseph Hurley had a fractured jaw and multiple bruises and cuts. Son Patrick Hurley (b. 1942) had a fractured wrist, multiple cuts, and went into shock. Son John Hurley (b. 1943) had fractures in the face and multiple bruises. Daughter Mary Margaret Hurley (b. 1947) was bruised and also in shock. Son Stephen Hurley (1944-2007) suffered the worst injuries, with a fractured skull, a concussion and other head injuries. His condition was reported as critical and Margaret Hurley later said they "didn't expect him to live" (Oral History, 75). She also said that her husband's "whole body was crushed" and "he almost died" (Oral History, 75).
A family friend, Mrs. Anton Anderson, had a broken leg and chest injuries. The driver of the other car, Jerry Phillips, a Fairchild Air Force Base airman driving back to Spokane from leave, suffered numerous cuts. His two passengers also suffered numerous cuts, bruises, and shock. Hurley's 1947 Dodge and Phillips's 1952 Ford were "classed as total losses" ("Nine Hurt"). All of the injured were treated at the Roslyn-Cle Elum Hospital. Margaret Hurley then made arrangements to transport her family by train to a bigger hospital in Spokane.
Heroine of the Day
However, Hurley decided to continue on to Olympia. She was aware that the "Republicans were tickled to death ... because I had a broken foot and I couldn't be there to vote" (Oral History, 76). She did not intend to let that happen. The Washington State Patrol picked her up and took her to an Olympia hospital for more treatment. On the first day of the session, she made a dramatic entrance to the capitol building:
"I was taken in a wheelchair and brought in on the floor of the House, with the camera lights flashing and the reporters, and a big crowd all around. All the legislators gathered around, glad that I could make it to help elect our Speaker" (Oral History, 77).
She cast her vote and immediately flew back to Spokane that night to be with her husband and children until they were out of danger. All of them eventually recovered. One of her hometown newspapers, The Spokesman-Review, called her "the heroine of the day" (Holden). The other, the Spokane Daily Chronicle, ran a photo of her in her Olympia hospital bed, thanking a state trooper for his help. A few weeks later, she told reporters in Spokane: "I'm able to hobble around, so I can return to the House chambers next week" ("Solon").
An ironic postscript to the story took place in Olympia eight years later. In 1963, Hurley had become convinced that O'Brien had not upheld his vow of undying gratitude. She helped lead a group of insurgent Democrats to successfully oust O'Brien from the speakership