In our last A Reading Life post about Women’s History Month, Mindy wrote about the importance of personal stories when describing the history of a place. We make history every day, just in living our lives and being a part of our communities. These individual contributions can be hard to trace unless a person leaves a written record or participates in something like the Everett Public Library’s oral history projects. The farther back we go, the more difficult it can be to track down the stories of women and people in minority groups; these individuals were rarely granted space in written accounts of the time. One thing that improves the chances of learning more about the activities of these underrepresented individuals is if they were a part of a larger group. Whether we learn from the records that groups kept or the occasional newspaper coverage that larger projects may have attracted, the trail is a little bit stronger.
Towards the end of the 19th Century, women in what would become Washington State began to form groups and clubs for a variety of reasons. This was a reflection of a larger Women’s Club Movement within the country, but also the outcome of homegrown political movements and a reaction to some specific needs within communities. In Washington State many women were deeply involved in movements to gain the right to vote. When Washington was still a territory, women organized and won the right to vote in 1883; unfortunately they lost that right when Washington became a state in 1888. It eventually became the fifth state to grant women the vote in 1910 – 10 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. More on that amazing story can be found here.
In Everett and Snohomish County, socially and politically active women were also engaged in acts of community building. As the men in the area worked at the clearing of land and the building of mills, the women were involved with founding the first schools, hospitals, and libraries. Women made sure that the children of the community had access to healthy food, clothing, and shelter. They provided for the social activities of the growing communities in the county and invited newcomers in to participate in book clubs, garden clubs, and other special interest groups. The Northwest Room collection has records from a small assortment of Everett-based women’s clubs that can be made available by request in which you could read about their efforts.
Though immensely important to their home communities, these clubs were not without flaws. Nationally the Women’s Club Movement was, more often than not, segregated by color lines and ethnic backgrounds; Washington State was no different in this regard. There was a Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and a Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations. As noted in my last post, one of the earliest presidents of the latter group lived in Everett. We can learn about the work of both groups by visiting the University of Washington’s Special Collections Department to view collections of their records (these are open to the public though it’s best to email ahead so that they can pull materials for you).
If you don’t have time to go be a historian for the day, there are resources in the Northwest Room and online that can provide you with information about the role of women in the Northwest – from indigenous life before contact, though today. Some of my favorites include the following:
As mentioned in Mindy’s earlier post, The Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project is one of our go-to resources.
Washington Women as Path Breakers by Mildred Tanner Andrews does a wonderful job of representing the many different cultural groups who have played a role in the development of this region.
HistoryLink.org is full of scholarly articles on a wide range of local history topics. On the topic of the history or organized women’s movements, I would recommend the ones on Nettie Asberry, Women’s Club Movement in Washington, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Western Washington and YWCA – Seattle-King County/Snohomish County.
Herstories Northwest: Women Upholding Native Traditions by Jay Miller talks about the important role women have played in preserving and sharing indigenous culture within the region.
Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920 by Sandra Haarsager delves deeply into the impact of women’s clubs on the region.
The History of Snohomish County, Washington edited by William Whitfield contains sections on the different women’s clubs in towns and cities in Snohomish County and provides a good point-in-time look at what the County was like in the early decades of non-Native settlement.
Bridging Two Centuries: Everett Women from the 1890s to World War I by retired Northwest Room Historian, Margaret Riddle is an excellent audiobook that provides local context for the topics discussed in this post. Unlike the other resources listed above, the library owns circulating copies of this resource so it can be enjoyed at home or in your car.
While the other books mentioned are reference copies that must stay in the library, we encourage you to come to the Northwest Room to work with them. The Northwest Room is staffed on weekdays from 10-5pm but the materials in the room can be accessed any time the library is open. If you are interested in accessing any of the Northwest Room’s archival materials, contact us to make an appointment and we would be happy to pull boxes for you.