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Women in City Government

Parks and Recreation Leader Pearl Powell: "It is only seconds...that we see them and those seconds should be good ones."

Powell awarding medals
Powell awarding medals

Pearl Powell accepted her first position with the City when Bertha Landes was Mayor. Powell was employed by the Parks Department as playground "instructress" at Collins Playfield from 1927 to 1935. She took summer school classes at Cornish while in college and studied theater puppetry with Tony Sark, as well as dance, including classes in modern dance with Martha Graham. In 1927, while attending the University of Washington on a scholarship, she worked as a play leader for the Parks Department to earn money for her room and board.

Powell's early playground reports burst with her enthusiasm for the activities and the children at the playfield. In her 1931 report, written at the end of the summer at Collins Playfield, Pearl Powell wrote:

Powell in Seattle P-I
Powell in Seattle P-I

"All nationalities, faces, and creeds meet as individuals on a common level here through that splendid medium known as free play . . . Every day almost some one tells me they come to the playground because the mass of voices, that are happy, makes them forget the things that seem to hang heavily with them." It was the rule of a leader, she wrote, "to cram as much joy and fun into the recreational side of their lives . . . as we can. It is only seconds after all that we see them, and those seconds should be good ones . . ."

Ruby Chow, active in the Chinese-American community and a member of King County Council for 16 years, described how Powell made Collins Playfield a "home-away-from-home" for herself and her brothers and sisters. Others echoed her sentiments. Powell taught them softball, basketball and volleyball. She led athletic programs, crafts, and overnights to Camp Denny.

Sails and Trails Club
Sails and Trails Club

In 1929, when 35 girls attended one of the overnights at Camp Denny, they were inspired to form the Sails and Trails hiking program. Powell was the advisor to Sails and Trails, a program open to women over 18 looking for low-cost recreational outings. By 1945 the group's membership, focused on working women, had grown to 215 women. Their annual trips included a boat trip on the Puget Sound and hiking throughout the northwest.

Demonstrating her creativity and inspired by City Council member Mildred Powell, who was also a P.T.A. leader in the 1930s, Pearl Powell organized high school dances. First held in 1932, the dances were sponsored by the P.T.A., the Seattle Public Schools, and the Seattle Park Department. All-city dances were held at the Civic Auditorium, with attendance frequently over 1500. The all-city dances ended in 1960 when construction began to convert the Civic Auditorium into the Opera House.

high school dance
High school dance

Powell was promoted to director of Women's Activities in the Playground Division of the Parks Department in 1937. In 1949, she was a recreation supervisor, in charge of public recreation program and activities city-wide. She introduced Junior Programs, cultural arts and special events for adults and recreation for the disabled. Powell was honored for her service to Seattle Public School children through her work as recreation supervisor. Throughout her career she was actively involved in community service, including the Soroptimist Club, the Big Sister Service, the YWCA and Camp Fire.

Powell served as both assistant director of recreation and deputy director of recreation. She became acting director of recreation in 1964, when director Willard H. Shumard resigned, and thus became one of the few women to hold the post in a major city in the U.S.

The first woman to head Seattle's Department of Parks and Recreation was Holly Miller, who served from 1988 to 1998.

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