Unsoeld, Jolene (1931—)

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Unsoeld, Jolene (1931—)

U.S. congressional representative (January 3, 1989–January 3, 1995). Born Jolene Bishoprick on December 3, 1931, in Corvallis, Oregon; educated at primary schools in Shanghai, China, 1938–40, and public schools in Portland, Oregon; attended Oregon State University, Corvallis, 1949–51; married an educator.

Born in 1931 in Corvallis, Oregon, Jolene Unsoeld grew up in Oregon and the state of Washington but spent part of her childhood in Shanghai, China. With her husband, who was a mountain climber and educator, she lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 1962 to 1967. For two years during that time, she was director of the English Language Institute in Kathmandu.

Unsoeld's first experience in politics came in the 1970s and early 1980s, when, as a lobbyist in Olympia, Washington, she worked for campaign finance reform and environmental issues. From 1983 to 1988, she was a member of the Democratic National Committee, and meanwhile won election to the Washington House of Representatives in 1984, where she served until 1989. During her tenure in the state legislature, Unsoeld was known for her position on environmental issues, including a successful campaign to put an initiative on the ballot that would set more stringent guidelines for the cleanup of toxic waste sites in the state.

In 1988, Unsoeld won the Democratic nomination for Congress from the 3rd Congressional District in Washington state, and narrowly beat her Republican opponent to win the seat, which she held from the 101st Congress through the 103rd. She served on the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, the Committee on Education and Labor, and the Select Committee on Aging. After running unsuccessfully for reelection to the 104th Congress, Unsoeld retired to Olympia early in 1995.


Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer