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Women in Government through the King County Archives

A little background: The King County Commissioners was the legislative body of the county government prior to the establishment of the King County Home Charter and the swearing in of the first King County Council in 1969. The Commissioners were three elected officials who functioned much like the County Council does today. Their records can be found at the King County Archives and accessed on microfilm in the self-service microfilm area.

In 1931 and 1933, the King County Commissioners introduced resolutions for King County to no longer employ women. Instead, they would fill open positions with married men, or women when they were heads of families. These resolutions were introduced to stem the economic hardships of the Great Depression’s mass unemployment. The second of these resolutions calls for King County staff to investigate whether they are employing any married women and replace them if their husbands are “able to support them.” That is to say, to fire married women for being married women.

Resolution 4387 1931_Page_1

Transcription: The following Resolution No. 4387 was passed declaring it to be the policy of the Board to fill county positions with men or women who are heads of families: RESOLUTION NO. 4387. Whereas, the present unemployment situation has created a serious condition and WHEREAS, the Board of County Commissioners deem it advisable, where married women are employed and are not the sole support of their families, to make it the policy of the board of County Commissioners to extend their patronage to men and women who are competent to fill these positions and are heads of families, now, therefore, BE IT RESOLVED that wherever the above condition prevails in positions coming under the jurisdiction of the Board of County Commissioners, these positions be filled by married men or women who are the heads of families.

Resolution 4387 1931_Page_2

Transcription: The following Resolution No. 5245 was passed requesting County officials to replace all married women whose husbands are able to support them: RESOLUTION NO. 5245: WHEREAS, it is right and proper that the Board of County Commissioners and other County Officials be consistent and keep in step with the spirit of the times, and WHEREAS, there is seemingly a well-founded rumor being circulated to the effect that quite a number of married women, whose husbands are in a position to properly support them, are at present employed in various County offices, now therefore, BE IT RESOLVED, that this Board request the executive head of each office to make a thorough investigation to determine if any such condition exists in his department, and that wherever he finds that it does exist, to correct the same at once and to notify this Board of such action. PASSED this 17th day of October, 1933.

For the commissioners to introduce this resolution is not that shocking—after all, women in Washington state had been repeatedly first allowed, and then barred from voting until a permanent amendment was made in 1910 to the Washington State constitution to give them the right to vote. These commissioners had lived most of their lives in a world where women’s civic participation was a novelty, one that could come and go at their legislative whim. The logic follows that their economic participation as members of the workforce might also be a novelty, and not the means by which they sustain themselves independently and find economic equality.

We don’t want to always spend Women’s History Month dwelling on historic injustices. But these resolutions are a rare gift. They are a clear example of the legislative, economic, and civil consequences of not having women in government and leadership roles. And this is what the phrase “second-class citizen” really means—that your legislators may or may not hold ill will towards you, but in any case, they do not see you, and may harm you as they stumble through that darkness. Whether barred explicitly through legislation or implicitly through bias, the consequences are the same: disenfranchisement and economic inequity of people with .  As long as you don’t see them at the table, you can’t really support them.

Since this resolution, King County has had many female council members. And that’s just a start—more women are running for office on the local and national level than ever. By the time the King County charter was established, and the Council was sworn in in 1969, things were radically different for women than they were when these resolutions passed. Since then, the council has had women in legislation and introduced programs such as the King County Advisory Board and Women’s Program, domestic violence prevention, and the promotion of women-owned businesses for public work projects. If things have changed so quickly in these years, what could happen for women in government between today and  2031?

Ordinance domestic violence
Ordinance no. 12787, regarding an apprenticeship program to target the inclusion of underrepresented groups, including women, in construction projects
Ordinance women business
Ordinance No. 9342 establishing domestic violence as a high priority for the 1995 budget.

This month, King County Archives invites you to make use of these documents as a mirror. What would your workplace lose without women? What does your community lose without women in leadership? How do we make sure every voice is heard in government?


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