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Women and Seattle's Civil Rights History

This page is a gateway to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project resources for exploring the civil rights activism of women in the Pacific Northwest. In the 1960s, women's liberation activism was not separate from women's participation in a variety of civil rights organizations. Many women engaged in the women's liberation movement also organized campaigns for desegregation, economic and social justice, and were some of the first women to hold lead public administrative roles.

Slide Show: Women in Seattle’s Civil Rights Movement a powerpoint slide show introduces the history of women in Seattle’s Civil Rights Movement. Includes video interview excerpts.

Activist Oral Histories Click to learn more about these activists and watch video excerpts of their oral history interviews.

Adams, Jean "Maid"

Maid Adams was active in Seattle's CORE chapter in the early 1960s. She helped organize campaigns against employment discrimination in grocery stories and downtown department stores, against housing discrimination, and against police harassment of African Americans.

Alaniz, Yolanda

The daughter of farm workers, Yolanda Alaniz was active in MEChA, the Brown Berets, the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women, in addition to writing for the UW _Daily_ on Chicana issues. She now works as an archivist, preserving Chicano/a history.

Alexander, Belle

A Boeing worker from 1943-1845, Belle Alexander was one of the first African Americans to work at Boeing Aircraft. In her oral history interview, she discusses what it was like to be a woman on the shop floor of Boeing in the 1940s and her experiences as a working woman in the 1950s.

Bennett, Ramona

A Puyallup, Ramona Bennett has been pioneering activist on behalf of Indian rights since joining the American Indian Women's Service league in the 1950s. In 1964 she co-founded the Survival of American Indians Association. In 1971, she was elected Puyallup Tribal Chairwoman, becoming one of the first women to lead a tribe. She was one of the principal authors of the Indian Child Welfare Act passed by Congress in 1978.

Bullitt, Katherine "Kay"

Education reformer, civil rights and peace activist, citizen diplomat, historic preservationist, philanthropist, Kay Bullitt was a tireless advocate for the desegregation of Seattle public schools. In the early 1960s she started a successful voluntary racial transfer program between Lowell and Madrona elementary schools and coordinated volunteer instructional programs to preserve racial diversity.

Caver, Vivian

Vivian Caver’s more than 50 year record of civic service in Seattle’s African American community includes substantial civil rights advocacy work: Urban League desegregation campaigns of the 1940s, open housing campaigns of the 1960s, and serving as Vice Chair and later Chair of the Seattle Human Rights Department.

Cornish, Megan

In 1974, Megan Cornish joined the Electrical Workers Trainee program at Seattle City Light, subsequently becoming one of the first female utility electrical workers anywhere in the United States. A member of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, she has been active for more than 30 years in struggles for race, gender, and economic justice.

Domingo, Cindy

Sister of assassinated union leader Silme Domingo, Cindy Domingo was active in the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP) in the 1970s. She played a key role in the Asian American and Filipino youth movements of the 1970s. She has since served as Co-Chair of the U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration, and has served as Board President of the Center for Social Justice.

Domingo, Lynn

The youngest of the Domingo siblings, Lynn joined the KDP while in high school in the 1970s, organized Asian American students at UW, joined ILWU local 37 and organized Alaska cannery workers. She remains an active member of LELO.

Durham, Heidi

In 1974, Heidi Durham joined the Electrical Workers Trainee program at Seattle City Light, subsequently becoming one of the first female line workers anywhere in the United States. In 1973, she became a member of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, and she has been active for more than 30 years in struggles for race, gender, and economic justice at the utility.

Guillen, Rosalinda

Rosalinda Guillen helped lead the United Farm Workers campaign that resulted in a contract with Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in 1995. A native of Skagit County, she worked in the fields when she was young, then built a successful career as a bank officer. She gave that up to devote herself to farm worker organizing.

Hollingsworth, Dorothy

A social worker, Dorothy Hollingsworth moved to Seattle in 1946 and became active in the Christian Friends for Racial Equality and later the Central Area Civil Rights Committee and Model Cities. She served as first director of Head Start in Seattle, and was the first black woman elected to the Seattle School Board.

Lewis, Janet

In 1974, Janet Lewis became one of the first females admitted to the IBEW Local 46 apprenticeship program. Active in both the feminist and labor movements in the 1970s, she worked in the women's health clinc movement and worked toward breaking down barriers to women workers in building and construction trades. Over the years she has has earned a law degree, served as Chief Electrical inspector for the state, and currently is Business Representative for Local 46.

Maeda, Sharon

Raised in Portland and Seattle, Sharon Maeda attended UW in the 1960s and became involved in civil rights activities. A teacher and journalist, she has served on the Board of JACL, was a founding member of Seattle Third World Women, and Executive Director of Pacific Radio.

Mangaoang, B.J.

Baba Jeanne Mangaoang grew up in the Seattle area and joined the Communist Party while in graduate school in 1938. She worked with the Washington Commonwealth Federation in the late 1930's and 1940's. In the early 50's she went underground. She also served as Communist Party chair and was a gubernatorial candidate in 1988.

Nelson, Lonnie

Born in Seattle, her father was a Communist Party member and helped organize the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union in the 1930s. Lonnie joined the Party in 1951 and has been active ever since in civil rights and Indian rights struggles, Central District organizing, the Coalition for the Defense of the Rights of the Black Panther Party, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Mothers for Police Accountability.

Raymond, Jean

A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Jeanne Raymond moved to Washington in her teens, attended Western Washington College and then graduate school at the University of Washington. She helped pioneer American Indian Studies at Seattle Community College and then co-founded Seattle's American Indian Heritage High School.

Saldaña, Rebecca

Raised in Seattle, Rebecca Saldana is an activist and labor organizer. Involved in farmworker solidarity efforts with PCUN and the United Farmworkers, she worked on Fair Trade Apples campaign. Currently she organizes janitors with SEIU Local 6 and is a board member of STITCH.

Singler, Joan

Co-founder of Seattle's CORE chapter in 1961, Joan Singler helped organize campaigns against employment discrimination in grocery stories and downtown department stores, against housing discrimination, and against police harassment of African Americans.

Valentine, Bettylou

Bettylou Valentine moved to Seattle in 1959 to attend graduate school. An NAACP activist, she joined CORE in the early 1960s and helped organize campaigns against employment discrimination in grocery stories and downtown department stores, against housing discrimination, and against police harassment of African Americans.

Veloria, Velma

The first Filipina American elected to a state legislature in the continental U.S., Velma Veloria came to Seattle in the 1980s to organize cannery workers under the auspices of the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP). After a decade of labor activism, she turned to electoral politics and served in the legislature for 13 years.

Welch, Sarah

Sarah Welch moved to Seattle in 1970 at the age of 23 to become one of the leaders of the United Farm Worker's (UFW) office there. In Seattle, Welch led grape and lettuce boycotts, educated others about the conditions farm laborers faced, and lobbied in state legislature to prevent bills detrimental to farm workers from being passed.

Winslow, Barbara

A member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Washington, WInslow quickly became a leader of the emerging women's liberation movement in Seattle, helping to found both Radical Women and Women's Liberation in Seattle in 1968.

Research Reports

From Women’s Rights to Women’s Liberation:
The Second-Wave Feminist Movement in Washington State
by Hope Morris

Prior to 1969, very few women were represented in significant positions of influence in Washington State, and yet by 1977 the state had legalized abortion, ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and eliminated numerous laws discriminating on the basis of sex, making it one of the most progressive states on women’s issues in the nation. This remarkable achievement was enabled by the two distinct wings of the feminist movement who took advantage of the social and political opportunities available to them.

When Abortion was a Crime (and Deadly): The Seattle Death Toll by James Gregory

Abortion was illegal in Washington until 1970, permitted only when the life of the mother was endangered. But countless women found ways to terminate pregnancies and some died doing so. We have found thirteen reported fatalities between 1945 and 1969, by no means a complete count. Here are details on each tragedy including the criminal prosecutions that followed.

Washington’s 1970 Abortion Rights Victory: The Referendum 20 Campaign by Angie Weiss

One of the first states to liberalize abortion law, Washington was the only one to do so by means of a ballot measure. In 1970, Washington voters approved Referendum 20, three years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. This report analyze the unique campaign that brought the ballot measure to voters and the bi-partisan pattern of support that secured victory at the polls.

The Christian Friends for Racial Equality, 1942-70 by Johanna Phillips

Started in 1942 by Seattle women of different faiths and races, Christian Friends for Racial Equality (CFRE) pioneered interracial and interreligious cooperation that laid the groundwork for Seattle’s more activist movement in the break down social and cultural barriers to interracial cooperation.

American Indian Women’s Service League: Raising the Cause of Urban Indians, 1958-71 by Karen Smith

Founded in 1958 by Pearl Warren and seven other Native women, The American Indian Women’s Service League proved a pivotal institution for Seattle’s growing urban Indian population. In 1960, the group opened the Indian Cultural Center which provided social and health services, taught Native cultural awareness, and laid the foundation for the political activism of young urban Indians in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Challenging Sexism at City Light: The Electrical Trades Trainee Program by Nicole Grant

On June 24, 1974 ten women began their first day of work at Seattle City Light, the city’s public utility. The women represented the first stab at gender integration of the all-male, unionized, Seattle City Light electricians. They would become the first female linemen, sub-station constructors, cable splicers, the first unionized female utility electricians in Seattle and the first in the nation.

Battle at Boeing: African Americans and the Campaign for Jobs, 1939-1942 by Sarah Miner

In 1942, pioneering women Florise Spearman and Dorothy West Williams became the first African Americans ever to be hired at Boeing. Their employment capped a two-year campaign led by the_Northwest Enterprise_, Seattle’s black-owned newspaper, and a coalition of black activists. The Aeronautical Workers union fought the demand for open hiring and it was only when the federal government intervened that the company and the union gave up the white-only employment policy.

Equal Rights on the Ballot:
The 1972-73 Campaign for Washington State's ERA
by Hope Morris

The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 but failed to win ratification by 38 states. Washington state ratified the federal ERA and also became the first state to pass a state-level version, adding equal protection to the state constitution in 1973. Read about the clever campaign that made this possible.

Electrical Workers Minority Caucus: A History by Nicole Grant

Historically the construction trades have been a bastion of white, male unionism. Since 1986 the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus has carved out a space for workers of color and female workers in IBEW Local 46, the union representing electrical workers in the Pacific Northwest. This essay explores the history of race, gender, and struggle before EWMC and examines the organization’s role in Local 46 today.

Susie Revels Cayton: “The Part She Played” by Michelle L. Goshorn

Wife of publisher Horace Cayton Sr., mother of the famous sociologist Horace Cayton Jr. and labor leader Revels Cayton, Susie Revels Cayton was also Associate Editor or the Seattle Republican and an activist in Seattle’s African American community. This biographical essay uses her writings to provide a window into her personal life and to help clarify her dual commitments to her family and her community.