A scientist and politician, the first female Governor of Washington State.
Born as Marguerite Ray in Tacoma, Washington, and when turning 16, changed her name to “Dixy Lee” in homage to Robert E. Lee.
Ray was always fascinated by nature and eventually followed her passion and studied Biology and Zoology. She was the valedictorian of her class and continued to study for her Master’s Degree and afterward for a Doctorate. After graduation, Ray taught science in public schools and at 31, started teaching at the Zoology Department of the University of Washington.
Dixy Lee Ray had a colorful personality, unconventional lifestyle and she was known as a person who could “make science interesting”, so she was offered to host a weekly television program on marine biology. Her popularity led her to become the manager of the Pacific Science Center, where she used a police whistle to run off hippies. She saved the center from bankruptcy since under her guidance, it became an interactive learning museum.
Ray supported nuclear power, and at age 59, she was appointed to chair the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In 1977, when she was 63 years old, Ray entered politics as a Democrat and became the first woman to be elected Governor of Washington State. She served as the 17th Governor, and during her tenure, she balanced the State budget and oversaw its first full funding program for basic education. Nevertheless, she alienated fellow Democrats due to her support in atomic power as well as controversial political decisions such as allowing supertankers to dock in Puget Sound.
Ray lost the following elections and retired from political life, but she continued to give lectures, publish articles, and she co-authored two books about the Environmentalist Movement.
“Anything the private sector can do, the government can do it worse”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- At age 12, she became the youngest girl to summit Mount Rainier.
- As a Governor, she appointed her elder sister as the official hostess of her office.
- When not living in the Governor’s mansion, she lived in a mobile home on an island with her dogs.
- The annual “Dixy Lee Ray Award” for engineering contributions to the field of environmental protection is named after her.