The Seattle Women's Commission

The creation of the Women's Commission was initiated by Councilmember Jeanette Williams and outlined in Comptroller File 266433. She held a public hearing on April 23, 1970 for enactment of legislation establishing an official City Commission on the Status of Women. The Judiciary and Personnel Committee sponsored the public hearing and the proposal initially placed the Commission within the Department of Community Development. Several individuals spoke in favor of placing it in the Office of Human Rights. The need for childcare was a theme among some of the speakers as was other types of discrimination.

The Seattle Women's Commission was established in the Executive Department in 1970 to provide advice to the Mayor, City Council, and other departments regarding women's issues. Today, the Commission's mission, as in 1970, is to establish goals, priorities, and immediate action objectives in alleviating discrimination against women. The Commission originally gave direction to the Seattle Women's Division of the Office of Human Resources in the Executive Department. A reorganization in 1973 created the Office of Women's Rights which provided staff support for the Commission. In 1996, OWR was merged into the Office for Civil Rights which now provides staff and support to the Commission.

Clips from a few speakers are below (see the full speaker list). The full meeting can be heard in Digital Collections.)

Excerpts from Public Hearing

Freddie Mae Gautier (listen to audio)

Councilmember Jeanette Williams: Freddie Mae Gautier? Gautier? You have one of the toughest names I know of to say.

Freddie Mae Gautier: Thank you very much for inviting us here this evening. Actually, I am here representing two organizations. One, a black woman’s club, The Benefit Guild, Inc., and my work, the Central Area Motivation Program. It’s Mrs. Raymond J Gautier, G-A-U-T-I-E-R.

First, I kind of want to give an answer to Dr. Hedrick’s statement why we as women want some of these things. We’re not actually asking for any special favors, we’re just want what is due us. I think, myself as a black woman, doubly want, because I’m discriminated from two different standpoints.

I know that you are assembled here as conscientious citizens and law-makers this evening, who are seriously concerned about our nation, and the survival of the decency and goodness in the world, in the present as well as in the future.  …This is a sick nation. America is divided and crippled by racism, hate, poverty and more. Any nation that spends 30 billion dollars to get to the moon and less than 3 billion dollars for poverty and poor is a sick nation. …Racism, law and order is nothing more for us as women than bad law and disorder, leading to legal lynchings and murders whether you are talking about deep in the heart of Dixie or here in Seattle..

The Central Area Motivation Program position on City Council file CF 266433 on the enactment of legislation establishing an official city commission on the status of women would like to present this to the Council:

One, we recommend that if the commission on the status of women really is meant to be a working and meaningful program, with enforcement power, that it be given department status. 

Two, we would recommend that under no condition should the commission on the status of women be placed under the Department of Community Development. We want an action now women’s bureau, not one just for window dressing purposes. We will not accept a women’s status commission in name only, with no powers to protect the rights of women.

Three, we would recommend that if the commission on the status of women cannot be a separate department because of budgetary problems, then it should be placed under direction of the Human Rights Department as a division, so it will have enforcement power.

Four, we recommend that if the commission on the status of women is placed in the Human Rights Department, that the Human Rights Department audience be amended to include anti-discriminatory policies regarding sex, so it will have the power to implement rights of women. We further recommend that if the commission on the status of women be under the Human Rights Department, it will be a separate division with definite concerns only of women and not the full emphasis of the concerns of the Human Rights Department.

Jill Severn (listen to audio)

CM Williams: Uh, Jill Severn?

Jill Severn: I’m Jill Severn from Radical Women, an organization that acts just like it sounds. The proposal before us is for the establishment of a Commission on the Status of Women. To begin with I’d like to present somewhat of a counter proposal in line with what Freddie Mae Gautier presented. And that is that we emphatically do not want another commission empowered to do endless research on the status of women. There are approximately 300 people here tonight who can tell you what the status of women is; we don’t need to do research. [laughter and applause]

The status of women in this country, for the information of the City Council, is that for every $100 a man makes, the average woman makes $58. What we are asking for is not excitement and more opportunities [coughs], but a chance to survive. A chance to raise our children with dignity, a chance for self-determination both economically and socially and politically, and in the field of education. We want economic equality, we want political equality and representation, and we want equality in the educational process. We want an end to discrimination. We want equality. We can put that in a number of ways. We can emphasize it differently, we can say it in various tones of voices, in various stages of ladlylikeness and un-ladylikeness. The fact remains that we are an economically exploited and socially and politically oppressed and we want an end to it now.…

We ask and demand that the commission be real. That it be relevant to our needs and our desires and help us in our goals and not use or exploit us for its goals. We need a commission that is relevant to the problems of the community and relevant to the most oppressed among women, of black and minority women…and of poor working white women who are heads of households. We want a commission that can deal with the issues that face us as women trying to survive in a male supremacist society. We want that commission invested with the power of advocacy for us. We want it to be a commission that speaks for the needs and realities that face women in the city and in this country and we do not want, as I said before, we do not want to be anybody’s guinea pig or showcase piece. Thank you. 

Wanda Adams (listen to audio)

CM Williams: Wanda Adams?

Wanda Adams: City Councilmembers, I'm Wanda Adams, I'm speaking for Women's Liberation. I'm also a graduate student at the University of Washington in the School of Social Work.  [crowd noise]

CM Williams: Yeah, pull it up. [referring to microphone]

Adams: I guess I’m a little taller than Jill. I’d like to talk tonight about the status of women, specifically within the area of employment and touching on education….

Now I’d like to say a couple of words about the commission. First of all, I think this commission has to be representative. I sincerely hope that I will not see a group of women, a group of white middle class women, in an elitist board, whose names have appeared on every other board in this city. [applause]

Secondly, if this commission goes into the Human Rights Department, as a woman I cannot but help but protest the makeup of that Human Rights Commission. There are eight men and one woman in the Commission, so you’re going to have to address yourselves to that.

And finally [laughter]…I think one of the big needs in this country is day care. We must have legislation for day care. It is very difficult for a woman to compete equally with a man if she does not have the assurance her children being cared for adequately…. And if it is not possible for the city to do this…then I would surely hope that the city would advocate for national government to provide the funds for day care in this country.

Ramona Bennett (listen to audio)

CM Williams: Ramona Bennett? Please say who you're speaking for.

Ramona Bennett: My name is Ramona Bennett and I’m working with the United Indians of All Tribes organization and I don’t really know if your commission is the answer…. But I know that we have a lot of problems that are really unique and we’re looking in all areas for answers. We have problems educationally, we have a very, very short median lifespan [crowd noise] and we have problems in our voting rights. And I think this is one of the reasons we’ve been so slow to act politically. The Indians that live on deeded trust or tribal lands have no vote on local elections. And for this reason, when the Indians come into an urban situation the constantly meet problems and they can’t react as a voting block because they’re just not geared to it yet.

 Now, at this point in time, the Indians are uniting. Within the Seattle area we’ve had the American Indian Women’s Service League for quite some time. And as an organization they’ve developed a facility, the Indian Center. It houses a lot of their social activities and a lot of their service organizations and now the Indian population in general is forming a new kind of unity and we think we have some of our answers.

We need our own facility. We need our own agencies. We need our own college that will give instruction to people who are going out to teach our children. They need special skills. We know that. And at this point, we’re dealing with men primarily and men seem to equate everything in terms of dollars and cents. They can’t seem to look at Indians as people. They constantly look at them as [unintelligible]. We talk about colleges they talk about museums. We need to make contact with the women in this area, we need to make contact with the political figures in this area. We have to develop some sort of public sympathy in our favor, so if we can, if not gain an entire facility, at least get some of the agencies working for us. We have children who are placed in foster homes with less care and sympathy than the humane society places cats and dogs. This is really true. We have children who are in fourteen foster homes in two years. Time after time after time these things come back to us. We either need to keep the agencies honest or else start taking care of our own people. It looks from the records that the only people who care about the Indians are the Indians themselves and they really need to start administering some of their own facilities. And I do have some pass-outs if anyone is interested.

CM Williams: Well, we would appreciate any copy up here. Are there any questions?

Bennett: No?:

CM Williams: Thank you very much. [applause]

Clara Fraser (listen to audio)

Clara Fraser: My name is Clara Fraser, I’m the community relations representative of SOIC the Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center….[laughter and applause] I am not happy, I am not fulfilled, I am frustrated, I am in an intellectual, moral, political and sociological rage at the nature of this system, the government of this system, and the condition of women in this country on the economic, political, cultural, the psychological plane. We represent a reservoir of centuries of misery. And many of us here tonight as I’m sure you’ve noticed represent a movement for social change of that very condition. And social change will all be interconnected and allied social conditions of racism, poverty, of war, and if you’ll excuse the condition, of capitalism. That is why we are here. [applause]

Judy Porterfield (listen to audio)

Judy Porterfield:

My name is Judy Porterfield. I’m here as one of the ones who has felt the edge of it—not just once, but quite a few times. Twice in this Civil Service System that is set up here in the City of Seattle. I am an ex-employee of the City of Seattle. It is true that the policies of Civil Service do not discriminate. It is also true that all the legislation necessary to ensure women job equality is already on the books. However, in Civil Service…this is honored more often in the breach than in the observance. [audience member claps] And in actual fact, many times, the woman loses out for only that reason. Not all positions in the Civil Service are the kind you go in and take a test for. For example, you can take an entry level test for Clerk II. To advance to Clerk III, which is the never level above it, you do not take a test, it is what is called “appointive.” That means the supervisor chooses whoever he likes. Then possibly, you can have the advantages I did, of being told, well yes, you’re fine for the job but we decided we prefer a man. No other reasons stated unfortunately. My pants zipped in the wrong place. [applause] This is a job that women were also holding…I think almost any of us here in this room have had this experience….’Your qualifications here are fine, but we don’t care to hire a woman with small children.”

When equality comes to this earth, it will be the day when my husband has to worry about who’s going to take of the children when he gets a job. When my husband applies for a job and they ask him “Who’s going to take care of your children if they’re sick?” No one ever has asked him that. I have been asked that every time I’ve applied for a job… And even better “Who takes care of your children when you work?” It’s nobody’s business and it’s his responsibility as much as mine. We’re a unit supposedly.

Barbara Laners (listen to audio)

Dorothy Hollingworth: ...on the strength of this, I'm not going to take all my time but I do have some of my other sisters that I'm going to ask to speak, and these are Black women from the Central Area, and I would like you to recognize some of them. Thank you.

CM Williams: Dorothy, would you like them to speak now? I don't have their names so perhaps you could call them.

Hollingsworth: They did sign in. Barbara Laners, are you ready?

Barbara Laners: My name is Barbara Laners. I guess you could just describe me as “Barbara Laners, a Black woman.” And I would first start off by sharing with you a speech made by another Black woman who was a great woman liberator, Sojourner Truth. And it goes something like this. [She quotes from Sojourner Truth for a minute.]

Now as a Black and as a woman I have a good vantage point from which to view at least two struggles in America today. One is the Black liberation and the other is the women’s liberation movement which was born out of the Black liberation struggle. I might be at a disadvantage because I can see America as it really is. America is both racist and antifeminist. [audience claps] And my Black sisters and I are in double jeopardy because of this fact.

I would like to say that I support Freddie Mae’s position in terms of establishing a women’s commission and I would like to speak to Councilman Hill and say to him that I hope we don’t get on this legislative merry-go-round that we have been on with Black people since the year one. You see, every administration from the White House to the courthouse deems it necessary to play politics with the lives of Black people and I should hope we wouldn’t get into this political battle with women. You see? I would hope that if we in fact decided we needed legislation for women that we would have the courage to enforce it. Thank you.

Citation: Event 162, April 23, 1970 Public Hearing. City Council Audio Recordings, 4601-03.