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Women in City Government

Hints for the Homemaker: Mary Norris

Mary Norris
Mary Norris

By the 1920s, "electric cooking" increased in popularity in Seattle, due in large part to City Light's encouragement. Selling electrical appliances to customers in the 1920s, City Light had a central showroom downtown and four branch stores throughout the city by 1930.

As early as 1933, City Light also had "for the convenience of the customer, an expert home economist . . . on duty in each district of the city," according to the annual report for that year. By 1936, the home economists offered service not only in the home, but also in free cooking classes held by City Light's Institute of Electric Cookery in the auditorium of the City Light Building on Third Avenue.


In the tradition of Betty Crocker, who was created in a marketing campaign begun by General Mills in 1921, Mary Norris found a niche at Seattle City Light as the expert home economist. Beginning in 1955, Norris presented programs to employees, high school students, and community service groups on canning and freezing, holiday food preparation, and other cooking and baking suggestions. For many years, Mary Norris stated, the home economists were "the only women who were required to have a college degree as a requirement for our position."

City Light promoted the use of electric appliances in the 1950s and 1960s as time-saving devices for the homemaker. "The modern Seattle housewife lives better, for less, electrically" the advertisement stated. Along with Prudence Penny (Maurine Kelley) of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and others, Norris appeared at the Seattle Home Show in the 1950s as "a noted home economist" offering hints and helps for the homemaker. Norris also had her own home economics television show on KIRO where new electric appliances were modeled. By the time Norris left City Light in 1976, home economics had become consumer education, and the emphasis changed from promoting the use of electricity to conserving it.

Mary Norris
Mary Norris lecturing

After leaving City Light, Norris became the first woman to serve on the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, a nationwide body studying the fishing industry from a world-wide perspective. She was also active in community service organizations, including the Girl Scouts. She is currently serving on the Board of Administration of the Seattle Employees Retirement System.

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