Book review: “Leading Ladies: Twenty-one of Tacoma’s Women of Destiny”


By John Larson –


Leading Ladies: Twenty-one of Tacoma’s Women of Destiny,” by Deb Freedman, Michael Ann Konek and Tacoma Historical Society, profiles significant women in Tacoma’s history, from the mid-1800s to the modern era. Some of the women were born and raised in this area, while others moved here from around the nation. Some blazed their trails in the halls of law and politics, while others made their mark in education and the arts. Some were members of pioneer families such as Clara McCarty Wilt, whose parents were the first couple to get married in Pierce County. They were forced to leave their home in Sumner during the Indian Treaties Wars of 1855-56 and took refuge at Fort Steilacoom, where Clara was born in 1858.

Every other page introduces the next woman with a trivia question. The reader can take a guess about what each woman did to become noteworthy, in four categories. For example, Elizabeth Shackleford: Was Elizabeth a leader in A.) architecture, B.) law, C.) politics or D.) social work? A flip of the page reveals the answer to be B., as Shackleford was a lawyer, justice of the peace and a judge. In 1952, she was elected to serve on Tacoma Freeholders Committee to craft a new charter for the city government. Each individual is introduced with such a trivia question.

Some of the more recent women profiled include Debra Friedman, a chancellor at the University of Washington-Tacoma who passed away in 2014, and Judie Fortier, an activist for women’s rights who died last year. A former president of the Tacoma and state chapters of the National Organization for Women, she was hired by the city in 1974 as coordinator of the new Women’s Rights Division.

A list of 21 other significant women in Tacoma history is found on pages 46-47. Each gets a sentence or two, with an invitation to the reader to learn more about them. Indeed, some of these women are featured in the new exhibit at Tacoma Historical Society, a companion to the book that are both based on the same research. The list simply mentions that Lou Johnson was a clothing store owner and hat maker. Some of her hats are on display.

THS will donate 1,400 copies of the book to Tacoma Public Schools and another 1,400 to various private schools in the city. They will be used as educational tools when children study local history. The profiles of each woman are rather brief at just two pages, so they may not satisfy the more voracious history buffs in town. At 50 pages it is a quick read, and would appear well suited for children in fifth or sixth grade.

Another page recognizes the local women who made donations to cover the cost of the book and its distribution. Several organizations also contributed, including General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Tacoma/Pierce County League of Women Voters, the Mary Ball Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Columbia Bank, in honor of its late co-founder and CEO Melanie Dressel. The book can be purchased at Tacoma Historical Society, located at 919 Pacific Ave.

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