The Seattle Chapter of the National Organization for Women was founded in 1970. Originally named the Seattle-King County Chapter, it was the 36th chapter of NOW chartered in the United States. The founders’ intent was to work “peacefully and within the system, through the courts, through all of the constitutional means available to effect the changes that our system has channels for.” In 1972, our then president, Elaine Day Latourell, expanded upon that intent by stating, “NOW is dedicated to working within the system and when that doesn’t work, to raising hell.” For 35 years, Seattle NOW has not strayed from the commitment made by our founding mothers to pushing buttons, breaking barriers and opening doors for women and girls.
Herstory: Through the Years
The Seattle Chapter of the National Organization for Women was founded in 1970. Originally named the Seattle-King County Chapter, it was the 36th chapter of NOW chartered in the United States. The founders’ intent was to work “peacefully and within the system, through the courts, through all of the constitutional means available to effect the changes that our system has channels for.” In 1972 our then president, Elaine Day Latourell, expanded upon that intent by stating, “NOW is dedicated to working within the system and when that doesn’t work, to raising hell.” For 35 years Seattle NOW has not strayed from the commitment made by our founding mothers to pushing buttons, breaking barriers, and opening doors for women and girls.
Using letter-writing, advertising, and lobbying campaigns, NOW Seattle “raised hell” until the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI compiled with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and ceased publishing classified ads as “Help Wanted Male” and “Help Wanted Female.” NOW Seattle worked with the Seattle Public Schools to identify textbooks and educational materials which included persons of color as well as men and women in non-traditional roles.
Before the mid-seventies, NOW Seattle had helped to establish the Seattle Women’s Commission (later established the Seattle Office for Women’s Rights). NOW members founded the Washington Women’s Political Caucus and Seattle NOW paid the Caucus’ first bill. Seattle NOW was instrumental in securing the right of a married woman to sue alone for personal injuries to herself, to manage her own earnings, and to co-sign with her husband when joint property was sold. The word “sex” was added to laws against discrimination in employment, public accommodation, and real estate transactions. We helped to make it illegal to cancel women’s auto insurance and credit cards merely because a divorce had occurred.
In 1992, nine women accused former Senator Brock Adams of drugging and molesting them. All but one of the women remained anonymous and the statute of limitations had run on all but the one incident. NOW Seattle began a recall campaign only to discover that voters cannot recall a Senator. We petitioned the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate, but after much negotiation, they refused. Senator Adams never ran for re-election and he moved permanently away from WA. While we failed in our original intent, our efforts were rewarded the next year when Senator Robert Packwood was accused of sexual harassment. The Senate Ethics Committee could not refuse to investigate a second Senator. They did investigate Senator Packwood and he was removed from the Senate.
In 2002, NOW Seattle convinced and worked with the State Patrol and State Crime Lab to obtain the funding that enables the crime lab to process DNA from cold cases, including numerous unsolved rape cases that have since been successfully prosecuted. By 2007, the Crime Lab had received evidence from 3,121 rape kits and all but 13 had been processed. Many of those processed resulted in the solving of “cold cases” of rape and murder.
In 2007, NOW Seattle helped host the Women of Color and Allies Summit (WOCA), which, along with being an amazingly wonderful conference of women of all colors, also resulted in strengthening our ties with women working for peace and justice in the Puget Sound area. Much of the focus of the conference was on immigration rights and we continue to work in that area as well.
On May 1, 2008, numerous NOW members participated in closing of the Port of Seattle to protest the Iraq War. This was an entire West Coast effort organized by the International Longshore Workers’ Union and it resulted in the closing of every port on the West Coast for one day.
In 2009, after being contacted by our sisters in South Africa, we successfully convinced Amazon.com to stop marketing Rapelay and interactive video game centered around raping women and young girls. In that same context we have continued to work with Amazon.com to stop marketing numerous violent, women-hating video games and to date they have removed many of these games from their American and European websites. Our efforts ultimately resulted in removing Rapelay from its Japanese websites as well.
In 2009, NOW Seattle contributed to the successful effort to prevent the closure of the Labor Center at Evergreen State College. We worked hard, along with many community allies, to pass Referendum 71 thereby assuring that gay and lesbian couples and unmarried heterosexual couples over the age of 62 have the same legal rights and protections in Washington as heterosexual married couples. Our members leafleted, wrote letters, and supported UFCW21 in its successful campaign to secure a better contract for its Macy’s employees.
NOW Seattle was one of the founding organizations of the Puget Sound Women’s Peace Camp protesting the manufacturing of cruise missiles by Boeing. As part of that effort, we succeeded in preventing the US Navy from establishing a 29 ship carrier battle group at Pier 91 in Seattle. Although a battle group was eventually located in Everett, WA, our efforts to prevent that resulted in a much smaller military installation on that site. NOW Seattle established “Peace as a Feminist Issue” as a part of the NOW National agenda and we are a long-term respected member of Seattle’s peace and justice community.
NOW was a prime sponsor of the Washington State Equal Rights Amendment ratified by our legislature. In the face of the national wave of anti-abortion terrorism, we continue to work to protect the rights guaranteed by Washington’s 1991 Reproductive Privacy Act. We have established the Feminist Overground Railroad which pays for transportation and safe lodging for women who must travel to Seattle for abortion services which, though legal, are not available in the majority of Washington’s counties.
NOW Seattle worked to pass the laws that allow a woman to press charges against her rapist even if there are no other corroborating witnesses. We were instrumental in the establishment of King County Rape Relief. NOW Seattle helped to enact Washington’s marital rape law and provided an amicus brief with the coalition that succeeded in making the “Battered Women Defense” legitimate in Washington State. NOW Seattle worked in coalition to achieve Seattle’s and King County’s Domestic Partnership Law and we continue to work to expand it to the State. NOW Seattle was instrumental in facilitating the successful suit brought by the women incarcerated at the Women’s Correctional Center at Purdy to achieve adequate health care and we continue to work to bring the library at Purdy up to a reasonable standard.
NOW Seattle’s Homeless Women’s project has provided essential items, from toiletries to clothing, for homeless women in our area and works to increase the number of shelters and services for homeless women. NOW Seattle was a plaintiff in the litigation challenging the anti-homeless statutes. While we did not succeed in overturning all of those statutes, we were successful in removing the restrictions on some of them. On one occasion we also brought gift bags and gift certificates to the women of Rose of Lima House. We gave them money, NOW T-shirts reading “control yourself not me,” and posters. They cooked dinner for us at ROL House in appreciation for our contributions.
We organized a coalition that has established the Womentor project, providing women as mentors for young lesbian and bisexual women. This was solidified into the Lambda House project that provides many services for GLBT young persons, many of whom are homeless. We have always been active participants on issues important to the LGBT communities including our National Valentine’s Day Action, “Right To Marry.”
NOW Seattle actively participated in NOW National Merchant of Shame Award (Woman Friendly Workplace Campaign). We locked arms with our sisters in Normal, IL who were being subject to outrageous sexual harassment at the Mitsubishi plant in Normal, IL by picketing the Mitsubishi Dealership on Aurora every Thursday for a year. The dealership went out of business. In the end, the president of Mitsubishi had to apologize to the women of the Normal, IL plant. In the context of the Japanese tradition of maintaining face, this was a major accomplishment. Shortly thereafter NOW Seattle hosted a group of women from Japan who wanted to know about American feminism. We met for two hours, with an interpreter, and had a marvelous discussion. Their movement was in some ways about 30 years behind us, but they were thrilled that we provided mentorship for them to return to Japan and begin working for their greater freedom.
We have continued our efforts to establish and maintain better working conditions for women and families. In 2005, we joined with the NW Women’s Law Center (now Legal Voices) and began our campaign to educate people about the “high cost of low prices” at Walmart. We continue to work with UFCW Local 21 in their efforts to unionize local Walmarts in this area. In 2008 and 2009, we worked in coalition with UFCW Local 21 and numerous community groups to support the signing of improved labor contracts for grocery store workers and Macy’s, both of which have a great percentage of women employees. Our Economic Justice for Women Taskforce, in conjunction with Sisters in the Trades and the Evergreen College Labor Center worked to educate State and Federal legislators about the importance of distributing Federal Stimulus Funds in ways that provide union-wage jobs and child care for women in the workforce.
A woman who worked at Paul Allen’s Vulcan Company came to us when she hit the glass ceiling. She was passed over many times by men for higher positions. When she told them she was going to NOW Seattle for help, they fired her. We picketed Vulcan in Bellevue for one day. The woman was well compensated for the discrimination that she had suffered. It is important to remember that it was NOW Seattle the woman turned because she knew we would take her seriously and do what we could to make a difference.
NOW Seattle co-sponsored the “March for Women’s Lives” through downtown Seattle several years ago. As part of National Abortion Rights Appreciation Day, NOW Seattle has co-sponsored and organized “thank you” parties, complete with gifts and flowers, for those few brave providers who still perform abortions in this area. We organized and held a march downtown publicizing the rape camps that had been established in Bosnia as part of the civil war between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs.
We worked on the National Campaign to make female genital mutilation illegal in this country. In addition, we succeeded in preventing Harborview Medical Center from instituting a policy offering “minimal” scarification to families that wanted a ritual performed but did not want full pharaonic infibulation performed. We have continued to try to locate the few midwives who still work in Seattle performing FGM.
We have over the years held innumerable public forums on issues such as abortion, “Jane’s House,” Social Security, breast cancer, body image, welfare reform, education, AIDS and woman, the effects of advertising on women, self-defense, and racism/white privilege. We toured high schools, middle schools and WIC programs presenting “Still Killing Us Softly” and educating our audiences about tactics to avoid the oppression of advertising. We helped to successfully lobby the Seattle School District to provide equal time to peace groups and military recruiters in the high schools and to forbid the establishment of JR. ROTC in Seattle High Schools.