A History of the King County Women's Program
The First Years: 1978-1985
The King County Women’s Program was established in 1978, during a period when there was renewed and widespread national interest in the social, political and economic status of the American woman. Many activists became part of what has been called “second-wave feminism” (after the first wave, that of woman suffrage), the “women’s rights movement,” or “women’s liberation.” They engaged in efforts to improve this status and to extend rights and responsibilities to women that were equal to those enjoyed by men. Other voices countered that these efforts were unnecessary or could have negative consequences. By the last years of the 1970s this dialogue had sharpened.
The King County Archives’ Record Group 413 documents the establishment and first seven operating years (1978-1985) of the King County Women’s Program and its guiding body, the Women’s Advisory Board. The program sought to appeal to a broad range of women in King County by serving as an information clearinghouse and by overseeing the provision of contract services to recipient groups identified by the Advisory Board.
“Second Wave Feminism” and King County: A Chronology
The federal Equal Pay Act is passed. It calls for equal pay for men and women doing the same work.
NOW logotype from a letterhead. Series 1901, Box 1, Folder 2.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) is created, “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”
May 1. New County Executive John Spellman affirms in Executive Order 1003 an equal opportunity policy for King County citizens and employees. “Sex” is not included.
“Women’s lib” enters the national consciousness. Mainstream media—newspapers, magazines, prime-time television—carry stories about the movement and about cases of sexual discrimination. In August, thousands of women across America march for equal rights and a stronger political voice. NOW emerges as the public face and across the sociopolitical spectrum--do not always feel that this organization represents their views.
Washington State voters approve Referendum 20, legalizing abortion.
Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution. Section 1 states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." Twenty-two of the required thirty-eight states, including Washington (1973) swiftly ratify the amendment.
Logotype, letterhead of national coordinating group in Washington DC, 1979. Series 1903, Box 2, Folder 33.
United States President Gerald Ford, by executive order, creates a National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year "to promote equality between men and women.” Congress approves $5 million to hold a national women’s conference and related state conferences.
Bella Abzug, Betty Freidan and Billy Jean King Accompany Torch Relay Runners into Houston at the first National Women's Conference in 1975. [Image courtesy of the National Archives. National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year 1975. National Archives Identifier: 7452293 Creator: President (1974-1977 : Ford).]
Spring. A group of King County activists begins meeting to discuss and advocate for the county’s forming a King County Women’s Commission. Public hearings are held around the county. There is an increasing effort during 1977 to reach out to diverse groups of women, not only NOW members.
Documents from 1977 describe activists’ goals for the proposed King County Women’s Commission. Series 1901, Box 1, Folder 1.
The Washington State Women’s Council is renamed the Women’s Commission and is given statutory authority by the state legislature.
November. The National Women's Conference in Houston draws 20,000 participants. King County government is represented by Donalee Rutledge of the Solid Waste Division. (Read Rutledge's official conference report here)
Letter from Donalee Rutledge to County Administrative Officer Don Phelps, written as she left the Houston conference. Series 1901, Box 1, Folder 2.
March 15. Despite some opposition, the King County Council establishes a Women’s Program, in the county’s Affirmative Action office, under the guidance of a Women’s Advisory Group (subsequently "Board"). Later in 1978, Wendy Morgan is named Women’s Program coordinator.
Ordinance 3631, passed March 30, 1978. Series 305, King County Council Ordinances.
The King County Council declares May 21-May 28 as Rape Relief Week (Motion 3513).
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification by the states slows in the face of opposition. The amendment is given an extension, until 1982, for passage.
The King County Council prohibits official County-sponsored travel to states that have not ratified the ERA through Motion 3615.
Detail of Motion 3615 passed July 24, 1978. Series 306, King County Council Motions.
The King County Council declares March 18-26 as Equal Rights Week through Motion 4096.
Motion 4096 passed March 19, 1979. Series 306, King County Council Motions.
First local Women in Trades fair, showcasing nontraditional work for woman. King County is a strong supporter of the fair and will soon hire its –
• first woman electrician (Trisha Coley, 1983);
• first woman carpenter (Linda Romanovich, 1984);
• first woman plumber (Sara Rowan, 1986);
• and first woman painter (Sharon Walker, 1987).
Publicity for the first Women in Trades fair, 1979. From the first annual report of the Women’s Program, Series 1633, Box 1, Folder 1.
King County Councilmember Patricia Thorpe. Series 400, Item 2625.
Patricia Thorpe is appointed to the King County Council for District 6 when incumbent Mike Lowry is elected to the United States Congress. She serves one year and is succeeded by Bruce Laing.
The King County Women’s Advisory Group, through polling undertaken by a consulting firm, conducts a needs assessment of King County women. Priorities identified center on women's self-image, confidence and assertiveness; jobs, training, and vocational planning; child care; dissemination of community resource information, and programs for women of color.
Eleanor Holmes Norton of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declares comparable worth (paying men and women equal salaries for work of comparable value to the employing organization) to be “the issue of the 1980s.”
Notices of community brainstorming events for women of color for a revised needs assessment. Series 1901, Box 3.
Women of color protest the methods and findings of the King County Womens' Needs Assessment conducted in 1979 as underrepresenting their needs and concerns. Brainstorming sessions are held with minority women to inform a new needs assessment.
Using different personnel and methodologies, including input from the community brainstorming events a needs assessment focusing on minority women, Needs of Minority Women in King County, is published.
Needs of Minority Women in King County, June 5, 1980. Series 872, Documents Collection, Document 2932.King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a community coalition, is established. King County government is represented by its Women’s Program coordinator.
King County Domestic Violence Coalition logo. Series 1901, Box 2, Folder 19.Lois North is elected King County’s third woman councilmember, succeeding Bernice Stern in District 4.
Lois North, Councilmember for District 4. Series 399, Box 2, Folder 7.Ronald Reagan is elected president. A “gender gap” is first noted in national voting patterns.The Reagan Administration begins to cut funds to social welfare programs. This has a direct effect on poor women, many of whom are also women of color, and on states and municipaities that rely on federal funding for some of their own social welfare programs.The King County Women’s Program annual report notes that the Women’s Advisory Board is opposing welfare cuts enacted by Washington State government.
Women’s Program funding priorities shift away from women’s personal improvement toward programs that prevent problems from developing. The preventive areas are:
• financial and legal information related to life crises (divorce, death, abandonment, career changes)
• physical and mental health
• community education on the prevention of sexual and domestic violenceCounty Executive Ron Dunlap issues Executive Order 3097, prohibiting sexual harassment in the county workplace (affirmed by Council Motion 8868 in 1991).
Executive Order 3097, June 4, 1981. Series 1372, Box 1.Councilmember Audrey Gruger, biographical material. Series 739, Box 2. Audrey Gruger becomes the fourth woman elected to the King County Council, representing District 1.
Headline from The Seattle Times, July 1, 1982, page 22.
The Equal Rights Amendment fails to be ratified when it falls two states short of the requisite number (38).
The Women’s Advisory Board calls for a comparable worth study of salaries among King County government’s male and female employees.Cynthia Sullivan is elected to the King County Council, representing District 2.
Councilmember Cynthia Sullivan. Series 400, Box 181, Folder 11.
Elaine Ko succeeds Wendy Morgan as Women’s Program coordinator. The County Council honors Wendy Morgan in Motion 6093.
King County, following the lead of Washington State government and the City of Seattle, undertakes a comparable worth evaluation of the pay rates of its employees. $1,810,371 is spent to equalize pay rates in some positions, but the effort does not result in broad pay equity for women employees.The long and litigious process of implementing a salary structure in Washington State government based on comparable worth is documented by records at the Washington State Archives. The records are described in its guide Comparable Worth in the State of Washington 1964-1995 shown below.After its transfer to the Department of Human Resources (social services), the Women’s Program was associated with the Department of Human Services (c. 1991-1994), and the Department of Community and Human Services (from 1995). By the 1990s the functional roles of the program and the Women’s Advisory Board had diverged, with the Women’s Program largely limited to monitoring existing contracts. In 1998 the King County Council increased the Women’s Advisory Board to fifteen members and reaffirmed its advisory role to the Women’s Program.