A profile of civic activist Phyllis Lamphere, who left a big imprint on her hometown of Seattle, is the latest chapter in Legacy Washington’s new project, “1968: The Year that Rocked Washington.”
Her profile — part of a new exhibit at the State Capitol — is now online at the project’s homepage.
As a leader in the League of Women Voters, Lamphere spearheaded a change in state law that gave Seattle a “strong mayor” form of government. That shift of power, from nine back-scratching City Council members to a single accountable executive, would transform Seattle politics.
That was just the start for Lamphere. She ignored advice to wait for the “woman’s seat” on the City Council to open up. She easily won election. As a new council member in 1968, she helped push through an “Open Housing” law barring discrimination in sharply segregated Seattle. More reforms followed. Her stature grew. Lamphere became the first female president of the National League of Cities.
Her climb wasn’t easy. Her father died a vagrant while she bootstrapped her way to college in New York. She was widowed at 22.
And when she reached for her dream job of mayor, voters spurned her in a heartbreaking defeat.
But Lamphere kept contributing. She was a driving force in the development of the Washington State Convention Center, built over Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle. In her 80s, she played a key role in the makeover of the city’s Lake Union Park with the cornerstone addition of the Museum of History and Industry.
Her activism was part of family tradition, Lamphere says. “You didn’t think of anything else. You thought about what you’d do for the city.”