Women Who Have Shaped Our Region: Let Me Add to the List

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Thanks to a tip from a friend, I just got alerted to Legacy Washington, the nonprofit that celebrates events and people in this state.  In honor of Women’s History Month, Legacy Washington has assembled an exhibit of trailblazing women, “Ahead of the Curve.”

Included in the on-line exhibit are some amazing individuals, past and present. Legacy Washington not only named the women but produced biographies explaining their matchless contributions. Among them are former Gov. Christine Gregoire, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, TAF school founder Trish Millines Dziko, KING Broadcasting founder Dorothy Bullitt, and Veterans Affairs director Lourdes “Alfie” Alvarado-Ramos. 

Legacy Washington concludes that the nearly two dozen women illustrate a “pioneering spirit of some larger-than-life women and their little-known work with big impacts on the nation and beyond.” 

It’s a most impressive group but the list is far too short. There are dozens who should have also been included, so I’d like to nominate a few. How about Amy Arkwright Hutton, the one-time Idaho boarding house owner, who struck it rich, moved to Spokane and then traveled to Olympia to persuade the all-male legislature to approve votes for women ten years before passage of the 19th Amendment? 

Missing, too, are amazing contemporary leaders like Sen. Patty Murray whom President Biden just cited as having worked to add the child tax credit to the stimulus package. The provision pushed by Murray and Rep. Rosa DeLauro is projected to cut child poverty by as much as half and is regarded as the most aggressive federal intervention to help poor children since the New Deal.

Also missing are some local politicos like Ruby Chow, the successful restaurateur and community activist who became the first Asian-American elected to the King County Council. Chow also deserves credit for her earlier role in electing Wing Luke, Seattle’s first Asian-American councilmember and the first Asian-American elected in the Northwest. Chow raised campaign funds for Luke and had Chinese restaurateurs pass out cookies with a fortune that read, “Wise to elect Wing Luke.”

Also absent from the exhibit are local sport heroes like soccer great Megan Rapinoe and WNBA champ Sue Bird. Then, too, are the many women who have been notable leaders in the arts, individuals such as Mimi Gardner Gates who put the Seattle Arts Museum on the map, presiding over SAM’s ambitious downtown expansion and creating the Olympic Sculpture Park. Nor can we forget Nellie Centennial Cornish, the pianist, teacher, and writer who in 1914 founded the Cornish School of the Arts, directing it for the next 25 years. In addition are the region’s many women artists, wonderful originals like Barbara Earl Thomas and Doris Chase. 

Other women have headed environmental causes, school reform, civil rights, and social justice groups, not to mention women who have headed labor unions and religious organizations and merit placement “Ahead of the Curve.” 

The Legacy Washington trailblazer feature was a great start on recognizing some of the standouts who put this corner of the continental United States on the map. The list, like mine, is just a beginning, so scores will be added. 

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Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later for the Seattle Times. In 2003, she quit to run for Seattle City Council where she served 12 years. She now writes for Westside Seattle and has been a co-host on The Bridge, aired on community radio station KMGP. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Deserving a mention are trailblazing women journalists like Mindy Cameron, Seattle Times editor and editorial page editor, and Ruth Howell, who was the P-I’s editorial page editor in the 1970s.

  2. I would dare to suggest a conservative woman, a Republican, who hailed from Walla Walla. Jeanette Hayner was the first woman to serve as Majority Leader in the Washington State Senate. (I believe Lisa Brown of Spokane was the second.)
    Hayner was a lawyer who invoked iron discipline at a time when GOP Caucus had one vote majority. A majority within Caucus had to support legislation for it to reach the floor.
    She did believe in legislating, not obstructing. The state Growth Management Act was enacted into law on her watch.

  3. And Bertha Knight Landes, the first woman mayor of Seattle and the first woman mayor of a major US city in 1922.

  4. I remember Ruth Howell returning from a trip to the North Slope right before the beginning of pipeline construction. She said, “I stood there and it was all right under my feet. A huge change coming to Seattle and our region.” She was sure right.

    I think you should include some others, too. Phyllis Campbell and Adriane Brown, breakthrough pioneers among women of color in top corporate executive circles locally.

    Jean Enersen, too, the very first woman local TV anchor in the entire US.

    Betty Fletcher and Barbara Rothstein, pioneering women judges on the Federal bench.

    I would of course nominate my own wife Heather Redman, essentially the identifiable woman thought leader and spokesperson for the Seattle area tech community. But of course someone else should sing her praises to you!

    Thanks for writing what you have. Very good choices!

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