March is Women’s History Month, and there are a number of extraordinary women from Central Washington to celebrate. Our state has a strong history of female leaders who have paved the way for future generations and exemplified the values we hold dear.

Mother Joseph, whose kindness and selflessness has influenced millions, touched countless communities throughout our state. In 1864, she and the Sisters of Providence opened a school in Walla Walla, and later, she established St. Elizabeth Hospital in Yakima. The U.S. Capitol features statues of two prominent figures from each state, and we are blessed to have a statue of Mother Joseph representing Washington in our nation’s capital.

The Fourth Congressional District has a rich history of female leadership. One of my predecessors who served the people of Central Washington, Catherine Dean May, was the first Washington woman ever elected to Congress. She was born and raised in Yakima and represented our district from 1959 to 1971, serving on the House Agriculture Committee and the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Congresswoman May’s congressional desk has been used by every succeeding Member of Congress, including myself – it currently occupies my district office in Yakima.

The Yakama Nation elected their first female chair, Lavina Washines, in 2006. She oversaw the daily business of a 10,000-member tribe and a 1.2 million-acre reservation. She worked to preserve the Yakama Nation’s cultural history, maintain environmental protections for our region, and cultivate relationships with non-native neighboring communities. By defending the nation’s treaty rights and promoting the teachings of her elders, Lavina served as a role model for native women across the country.

Through the decades, we have seen how these female leaders have set examples for women and girls today. Fortunately, women in Central Washington continue to lead and inspire.

Sandra Haynes, Chancellor of WSU Tri-Cities, and Rebekah Woods, President of Columbia Basin College, are two strong female leaders of our region’s prominent education institutions. They have forged partnerships with community pillars like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and have helped transform the Tri-Cities into the hub for innovation it is today.

This increased collaboration has resulted in world-class research and scientific breakthroughs coming directly from Central Washington. The encouragement of young women to get involved in STEM fields can also lead to other female representation that is – literally – out of this world. Kayla Barron of Richland recently graduated as one of NASA’s newest astronauts, and she has the opportunity to be the first woman to land on the moon.

As I travel across our district, it is increasingly clear: strong women hold key leadership positions, run farms and ranches, own small business, and lead in our education system. From industry leaders to mothers and students, I have the utmost respect for the women and girls from all walks of life and different backgrounds who live and work in our communities, and I am proud to represent the strong female leaders of Central Washington in Congress.