William Owen Bush (July 4, 1832 – February 13, 1907) was an American farmer and politician who was elected to the Washington House of Representatives as part of the inaugural Washington State Legislature after its admission to the United States in 1889. He is noted for introducing the legislation that established Washington State University, for being the first African-American to serve in the Washington legislature, and for his tireless promotion of Washington agriculture.
Bush was born in Clay County, Missouri on July 4, 1832. He was the son of George Washington Bush, a celebrated settler and veteran of the War of 1812 who inherited a portion of the substantial fortune of his father, Matthew, and Isabella James.
In 1844, at the age of 12, William Owen Bush traveled with his father, mother, and siblings from Missouri to Oregon in the company of five other families (including that of Michael Simmons, who would eventually found the city of Tumwater, Washington). By the time the family had reached the territory, the Provisional Government of Oregon had enacted legislation prohibiting land ownership by blacks. Undeterred, the elder Bush moved his family north, across the Columbia River, into what would eventually become the Territory of Washington (though was at the time contested land). There, the elder Bush went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company and eventually established a farm in Thurston County.
William Owen Bush's ancestry has been the subject of some confusion. Some of his descendants denied that his grandfather, Matthew, had any African ancestry at all. However, he himself identified as African-American, and was described in contemporary accounts as a negro. Bush's father, George Washington Bush, was of mixed race, while his mother was of German descent.
In 1859 Bush married a widow, Mandana Kimsey, and established a farm 12 miles south of the family homestead. The couple had three children, George O., John Shotwell, and Mandana Isabella. George O. Bush died in infancy. After his father's death, William Owen Bush took control of the family farm, operating it together with his brothers and growing the family into increasing prosperity and wealth. In 1872 Bush helped found the Western Washington Industrial Association, which organized agricultural expositions, serving as the group's inaugural president. Grains from the Bush farm won gold medals at the 1876 Philadelphia World's Fair, and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In 1893 he was appointed to represent the United States on the Advisory Council of the World's Congress Auxiliary on Farm Culture and Cereal Industry.
Following Washington's admission to the United States in 1889, Bush ran and was elected to the first sitting of the Washington House of Representatives as a member of the Republican Party. In 1890 he introduced and helped pass the state's first civil rights act, which prohibited racial discrimination in "public accommodations ... public conveyances on land or water, theatres and other places of public amusement and restaurants." Bush is also credited with introducing the legislation that led to the establishment of Washington State University. He was elected to the legislature a second time, serving until 1895.
Bush died in 1907 at St. Peter's Hospital in Olympia, Washington and was interred at Union Cemetery in Tumwater, Washington. In its obituary, the Morning Olympian newspaper described Bush as "one of the oldest and most famous pioneers of the state of Washington" and declared that "probably no resident of the state or territory throughout its history has done more to advertise the state than W. O. Bush."