This Week Then: Women United in Washington History

Plus: the Tribal-led protests that gave us Discovery Park and Daybreak Star
| Updated: March 5, 2020
Everett Woman's Book Club

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Women United

March is Women's History Month, and this week HistoryLink looks back at the women's club movement in Washington, beginning with the Woman's Club of Olympia, founded on March 10, 1883, and credited as the first association of its kind in the state. The organization dedicated itself to charitable efforts, self-improvement, and civic reform, as did most of the women's clubs that followed.

Many of the early groups focused on the need for public libraries. Beginning in 1894, the Everett Woman's Book Club (seen above) helped establish what would become the Everett Library. Similar groups in SeattleWalla Walla, and other cities did the same. (Image courtesy Everett Public Library)

In the Seattle area, groups of women created hospitalsraised money for the needybought and sold real estate, fostered cultural and intellectual development, and helped working women become self-supporting. Most women's clubs got their start in the state's largest cities, and in 1896 the Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs was formed to provide assistance to groups throughout the state.

The growth of these types of clubs provided a stronger voice for women by giving them strength in numbers. By the early twentieth century, many clubs had shifted their efforts towards lobbying, and they pushed for more government involvement in regulating women's working conditions and other social issues. But the strongest influence that women's groups had on the political landscape was in support of woman suffrage.

In 1883 Washington women won the vote, but lost it in 1888. Two decades later, suffrage groups coalesced behind two distinctly different leaders, Emma Smith DeVoe and May Arkwright Hutton. The two factions were strong but contentious, and created quite a fracas at both the state and national Suffrage Association conventions held in Seattle in 1909. Nevertheless, they eventually pooled their efforts, along with many other women's groups, and in 1910 Washington women permanently secured the vote, ten years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment made woman suffrage the law of the land.

Protest Incited

Fifty years ago this week, on March 8, 1970, Native Americans and other protesters, including Leonard Peltier and Jane Fonda, clashed with military police during an attempt to reclaim part of Fort Lawton for local tribes. Surplus land from the fortwhich was established in 1900was in the process of being transferred to the city of Seattle. Local tribes sought to reclaim the property based on treaty rights promising reversion of surplus military lands to their original owners.

The protests, which were led by Bob Satiacum and Bernie Whitebear, began when Indian forces invaded the base from all sides. Protestors were dragged away and some arrests were made, and after more continued to climb the fences a barbed-wire barrier was placed around the post perimeter. The group set up a camp near the front gate, and skirmishes continued there for the next three months.

The United Indian People's Council, the city of Seattle, and U.S. congressional representatives went through a long negotiation process, and compromised with a decision that created both Daybreak Star—an Indian cultural center that opened in 1977—and Discovery Park, now the city's largest recreational tract. The fort officially closed in 2011 and the remaining land was transferred to the city, which is developing plans to use it for low-income housing.

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