The Queen of KING Broadcasting
Dorothy Bullitt built a media empire into a civic legacy.
In 1947, a wealthy widow bought a radio station. It was hardly the crown jewel of her assets; since her husband’s death in the 1930s, Dorothy Bullitt had managed substantial real estate holdings and philanthropic endeavors. But then she added the city’s only TV station for $375,000 and wrangled call signs that echoed her home county: KING.
Dorothy had a brain not just for business but for technology. “She had a very organized mind—a linear thinker,” says her namesake granddaughter Dorothy Bullitt, a lecturer at University of Washington. She saw her grandmother work right up until she passed at age 97.
The station grew with the medium, welcoming the country’s first female evening anchor, Jean Enersen. Dorothy’s family sold KING in 1991 for $500 million after her death, but donated that early radio purchase, the classical KING FM, to the Seattle Symphony and Opera.
Daughter Harriet remembers her mother’s passion for community, that she’d hang out in the KING building’s coffee shop to catch the pulse of Seattle; that she led a push for children’s programming and bringing broadcasts to rural viewers. Harriet doubts Dorothy would have labeled herself a trailblazer, but as the first woman in America to own a TV station, she’s unquestionably a pioneer.
A Tugboat Empire
Thea Foss turned a rowboat and readiness into an entire industry.
The Foss Maritime motto is Always Safe, Always Ready. Officially, it’s about the company’s ability to, at any moment, run a tugboat into the choppy waves of Puget Sound (or a remote ocean) to tow a ship ashore. But founder Thea Foss was known for even more. “She painted [the motto] on the boathouse,” says the company’s marketing director, Loren Skaggs. “Because she kept a pot of coffee in the office, some people thought ‘always ready’ meant that.”
While her husband worked a Key Peninsula construction site in 1889, Thea Foss stayed in Tacoma to start a business; whichever endeavor made more money, the Norwegian immigrants decided, would be their permanent plan. Thea spent $5 on a shabby rowboat, spruced it up, and sold it for a profit; then she bought more and rented them out. The thriving venture eventually moved to motorized launches, then pioneered a teardrop-shaped tugboat hull.
“She had a soft face and soft disposition,” says Shannon Bauhofer of her great-great-grandmother, but her alter ego was salty; Thea inspired the character Tugboat Annie, star of 1930s films and a TV show. Now Foss Maritime has a global reach, but many of its tugs still bear a family name (and the Arthur Foss is a floating museum parked next to MOHAI). Not only did Thea’s marine services help build Puget Sound as an industrial waterway, she made the stout, service-minded vessel a Northwest signature.
A Stronger Community
Susie Revels Cayton improved life for black Seattleites.
Daughter of a preacher man (who happened to be the first African American elected to the Senate). Wife of an ex-slave who founded a weekly newspaper called The Seattle Republican. But mostly Susie Revels Cayton was a societal force: a multihyphenate intellectual dedicated to improving conditions for black Seattleites.
In 1896 Seattle was simultaneously tolerant of and economically exclusionary to the black community. Susie arrived from Mississippi to wed Horace Cayton, and in only a few short years the college-educated couple arose as one of the most notable, affluent, and esteemed African American families in the city, with a big home on Capitol Hill. They counted author Langston Hughes and singer-activist Paul Robeson as close friends.
Susie was active in many facets of the black community, from charity clubs that cared for abandoned babies to workers’ rights activism during the Great Depression. She later joined the Communist Party. As a prolific writer, she quickly took on editorial roles at the Republican, a duty she juggled with motherhood and civic activities. “The woman who can jot down a note or an article while the baby is soothed to sleep or while the dinner cooks,” Horace once wrote of Susie in their publication, “is the woman that rules the world.” She was leaning in long before female COOs gave it a name.
An Eye for Modern Art
Zoë Dusanne brought international culture home.
In 2017, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors took Seattle Art Museum—and a million social media feeds—into some bright, recursive yonder. But 60 years before, art dealer Zoë Dusanne laid the groundwork for that blowout when she gave Kusama her American debut.
Between 1950 and 1964, Zoë ran an eponymous gallery and gave Seattle a crash course in modern art. After 16 years here, working as an electrologist and raising her daughter, she did a stint in Greenwich Village dealing paintings and other pieces. After she returned, verging on 65, Zoë opened a part-time gallery in her modernist home overlooking Lake Union.
Abstract expressionism was just seeping into public consciousness and Zoë began by showing local talents like Mark Tobey (a good friend), but soon brought in marquee names—Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee. As a curator, she had not only an eye, but vision. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote that a 1956 show was “stamped more strongly with a single personality than are many one-man shows covering only a three-year span. That personality is Mrs. Dusanne’s.” Indeed, in 1977, five years after she died, SAM held a show dedicated not to an artist or movement, as is typical. Instead it was a “Tribute to Zoë Dusanne.”
A Life-Saving Children’s Hospital
Anna Herr Clise turned heartbreak into health care.
Anna Herr Clise arrived in Seattle with her real estate tycoon husband a day after the city burned in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Eight years later, they couldn’t avoid personal tragedy—their five-year-old son Willis contracted inflammatory rheumatism. With the nearest children’s hospital in San Francisco, the Clises’ affluence wasn’t enough to save him.
Anna quickly decided to do something about her pain. She marshaled 23 friends who donated $20 each to open Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, a 12-bed partially outdoor cottage on Queen Anne.
The founders offered not only the first youth hospital in the Northwest, but a hefty promise: to treat any child regardless of race, religion, or ability to pay. In its first year of operation, volunteer doctors treated 13 children with illnesses ranging from malnutrition to bowed legs, club feet, rickets, and paralysis.
Since 1907, the hospital has had many homes and names, officially becoming Seattle Children’s in 2008. In 2018 the hospital saw 446,016 patients; U.S. News and World Report ranked it 10th best in the nation. “It’s remarkable,” says Nancy Senseney, a member of its board of trustees and Anna’s great-granddaughter. “The foresight those women had back then—to accept any child that needed care—they’ve saved countless lives.”
A More Beautiful Bar Scene
Linda Derschang challenged nightlife’s clubby status quo.
When Linda Derschang sought a modest loan to expand her clothing store in 1989, a few male acquaintances in Seattle’s small business world assured her their experiences were easy: Just show up at a bank looking semiprofessional. “I walked into many banks,” she recalls. “I couldn’t get a loan from anyone.” Derschang’s mother ended up cosigning.
After shifting into the bar biz with Linda’s Tavern cofounders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman (also the guys behind a little music outfit called Sub Pop), Derschang says beer reps hesitated to sell any useful quantity of kegs to an unknown newcomer—until Linda’s demonstrated its status as a very (very) lucrative account. “How did you get to do this?” she remembers being asked in those early days.
No one told her outright that her gender was an issue. But Derschang repeatedly sensed her status as a rare businesswoman in the nightlife arena cast her in a less serious light when dealing with attorneys, bankers, even other bar owners.
Linda’s Tavern, of course, was just the first of a string of progressively more ambitious bars, cafes, and restaurants. When few of her peers took design seriously, Derschang flexed her aesthetic talents to give Seattle the all-day cafe progenitor Oddfellows, the stately hunting lodge irony of Smith, and glam midcentury Tallulah’s. Now, she pays it forward by sharing contacts and wisdom with a new generation of female bar owners. Rachel Marshall of Montana, Nacho Borracho, and Rachel’s Ginger Beer calls her “one of my most generous mentors.” She’s since whittled her empire down to a more manageable size (including her newest, Queen City), but credit Derschang for giving Seattle a more inclusive nightlife landscape.
The Hugo House That Felt Like Home
Linda Breneman, Andrea Lewis, and Frances McCue sheltered Seattle’s creative soul.
There were bookstores and readings and MFA programs, sure, but in 1996, Linda Breneman, Andrea Lewis, and Frances McCue—Seattle writers all—wanted something different, a writers’ hub. So they held events and meetings, figuring out what that might look like. From those talks Hugo House—named after the local poet Richard Hugo—blossomed.
For nearly two decades it resided in a charmingly bent Capitol Hill Victorian house across the street from Cal Anderson (then, in 2018, got folded into the ground floor of the condos that replaced it). “When we first started,” McCue, the founding director, says of its first decade, “it had the kind of wild, hairy spirit of a startup.” McCue and the staff kept a “Say Yes” fund for idiosyncratic ideas people pitched.
Eventually Hugo House cohered into its own little universe: part school, part inclusive club, part venue—offering nights with $1 PBRs and prose readings, or commissioning new work from major writers like Roxane Gay and Lauren Groff. That energy imbues the space today, a conception of writing not only as a solitary act but one communicative and communal.
The Pacific Science Center and Its Educational Emphasis
Dixy Lee Ray was more than a trailblazing governor.
The architecture came first. The iconic arches and exhibit spaces built for the futuristic 1962 World’s Fair could no more be tossed aside at the exposition’s end than the Space Needle. The complex got a new name—Pacific Science Center—and a director, Dixy Lee Ray, a zoologist with a doctorate in marine biology.
The new museum began with leftover fair pieces, like a model of the moon and the Spacarium screen, a precursor to Imax. Dixy, with her signature pageboy haircut and abrupt manner, brought children into the space. She launched a Science Circus during school breaks, and instituted ticket fees and membership.
Dixy left nine years later when President Nixon asked her to lead his Atomic Energy Commission; in 1976, she became the second woman in America to be elected governor. “She seemed not only blunt but affable, breaking the glass ceiling ahead of the country,” says former governor Christine Gregoire. After a single term in Olympia, Dixy returned to science advocacy, offering controversial stances on “environmental overkill” and scoffing at the idea of global warming. Despite her contrarian ways, her legacy still stands at the base of Queen Anne: The Pacific Science Center gets a million visitors a year and hosts everything from science conferences to robotic dinosaurs to, yes, events about climate change.