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Dorothy Hollingsworth, Education Trailblazer

Remembering education trailblazer Dorothy Hollingsworth: 1920-2022

First black woman on Seattle Schools Board leaves a deep legacy

Education pioneer and civil rights trailblazer Dorothy Hollingsworth has come to her final rest, but she will be long remembered for her commitment to – and far-reaching impact on – education and equity in Washington.

A woman of firsts

Hollingsworth, who became the first black woman in Washington State’s history to serve on a school board when she was elected to the Seattle Schools Board in 1975, passed away this week at the age of 101. She was passionate about equal access to education and believed both education and access to social services where needed were key to success and prosperity.

“She was fierce,” her granddaughter, Joy Hollingsworth, told The Seattle Times this week. “She loved education. She loved children. She knew the heartbeat of activism, equity, social services was [being] able to bring resources to families.”  

Beverly Redmond, Seattle Schools assistant superintendent, said the district mourns the loss of a champion for equity in education.

“We are so deeply grateful for her service to Seattle Public Schools and the greater community,” Redmond said Wednesday. “Our heartfelt condolences to Ms. Hollingsworth’s family, friends, colleagues, and everyone touched by her remarkable life. “

Facing discrimination

Before Hollingsworth broke the glass ceiling for black women in education leadership in Washington, she was met with discrimination. After arriving in the city in 1946, despite graduating from Georgia’s Paine College and teaching professionally in the Carolinas for several years, Hollingsworth was denied a teaching position in Seattle’s public schools, according to historian Quin’nita F. Cobbins-Modica.

She did not, however, let that deter her from pursuing her passion for education. She became a state welfare investigator and later received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington. Soon after, Hollingsworth became a social worker for the Seattle school district.

From worker to education leader

Hollingsworth became the director of the district’s first Head Start Program in 1965. According to History Link historian Mary T. Henry, that appointment made Hollingsworth the first African American woman to manage a major city agency. The Seattle program was also the first Head Start Program in Washington State, built from the popular federal program. Hollingsworth’s expertise in early childhood education eventually won her a seat on the national advisory board of “Sesame Street,” the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) children’s television program.

A city leader of huge impact to families

Hollingsworth was a key player in the 1960s civil rights movement in Seattle, pushing policy makers to end restrictive covenants that made it difficult for people of color to purchase homes in some neighborhoods. In the early 1970s, she served as the deputy director of planning for Seattle’s Model Cities Program, an initiative designed to fight urban poverty. She later became Seattle’s associate director of project planning. In this position, Hollingsworth oversaw 46 separate projects in education, arts and culture, economic development, job training, health, welfare and legal services. Later in that same decade, Hollingsworth helped develop day care programs and facilities throughout Seattle as the city’s director of early childhood education.

A challenging position

In 1975, she was elected to the Seattle School Board where she served until 1981, drawing criticism from black, white and Asian activists for her support of racial integration through school bussing.

Hollingsworth was elected to the State Board of Education as the representative from the 7th District (Seattle) in 1984, a position she held until her retirement in 1993.

More at Seattle’s Child:

“What we are staying in Seattle public schools”

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