Janet Lewis was born and raised in southern Indiana and attended Indiana University before moving to Seattle in 1973. An active participant in both the feminist and labor movements during the 1970s, Lewis was worked in the emerging women’s health clinic movement before quickly turning her attention toward breaking down barriers to women workers in building and construction trades.
In 1974, Lewis became the first white woman admitted to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46apprenticeship program. During her apprenticeship and later as a journeyman electrician, she supported a number of organizations committed to increasing women’s access to employment in the building trades— including Mechanica, Apprenticeship Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW), and Women in the Trades. In 1983, Lewis and a fellow electrician, Arlene Arp, started Circle Electric, an all-female electrical contracting company which they owned and operated for ten years.
After selling her business, Lewis earned a law degree from the University of Washington and went to work in Olympia as a legislative analyst for the State Department of Labor and Industries. In 1997, she became Chief Electrical Inspector for the state of Washington. During her tenure, Lewis helped turn around a troubled state electrical program, and in 1999 received a Governor’s Distinguished Management Leadership Award for her efforts. In 2000, Lewis returned to the IBEW, where she currently works as a Business Representative for Local 46.
In an interview with Local 46 Apprentice Nicole Grant and Trevor Griffey on April 13, 2006, Janet Lewis shared her memories of becoming active in the women’s movement, how her feminist sensibilities brought her into the labor movement, and the challenges she’s faced trying to bring the two commitments together. Video editing by Daren Salter.