Dorothy Hollingsworth isn’t a household name in Seattle, but perhaps she should be, because Dorothy is a local hero. For nearly 50 years she made an indelible mark on Seattle education. Her work served to empower and lift up children of color despite racially motivated attempts to ensure that only certain kids experienced the value of a quality education. Her efforts paved the way for countless children to benefit from equality under the law. Despite roadblocks; she never quit. And her efforts are still felt today.
Dorothy had recently arrived in Seattle in 1949 she applied for a teaching position in the Seattle School District. She was denied. Although she wasn’t able to get a job as a teacher here in Seattle, she didn’t allow that to stop her from being an educator. She went back to school for her Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington later becoming a social worker in Seattle Public schools. In the early 1960s, Hollingsworth became involved with the local civil rights movement, joining Christian Friends for Racial Equality and later the Central Area Civil Rights Committee. In 1965, she became the first African American woman to manage a major city agency when she was selected by the Seattle School District as the director of the Head Start Program, a program designed to promote school readiness of children under five from low-income families through education, health, social and other services. Her work with Head Start was so well regarded that in 1984 she became the first African American leader to serve on the Seattle School Board, working on better integration of Seattle schools through busing. Sadly, busing was abandoned in the mid-2000s. Without busing our schools have become more segregated. Washington State low-income and students of color are failing to graduate at higher rates than in the rest of the country. We still have much work to do.
That said, the Head Start program that Dorothy founded is alive and well, and still bears her name at the First AME Church.
Seattle would do well to remember local heroes like Dorothy, who started the discussion around equity and equality in education by helping us take the first step towards an education system that prepared all children for a better and more prosperous future.