The Story of Olympia, Washington … Amanda Smith, Political Pioneer, and Mid-Century Olympia Politics



AMANDA SMITH, POLITICAL PIONEER, Parts 1 & 2 … Women of accomplishment fill the pages of Olympia’s story, but none have had a greater influence on the city than Amanda Smith. Her two terms as Olympia’s first woman mayor changed the city more dramatically than any mayor before, or after, her tenure.

When Amanda assumed office in 1953 Olympia was a far different place from the city we know today. It was blue collar-rowdy with a unionized bib-overall working class and a hard-working God-fearing middle class. State government represented but a thin slice of its economy and citizen-legislators frequented here far less than do their modern, more professional counterparts.

The city’s major employers were the brewery in Tumwater, the Olympia Canning Company and the Port with a buzy marine terminal and a myriad of mills scattered all over the Port Peninsula. Those mills filled the sky with wood smoke, polluted Budd Inlet with creosote and God-knows-what, and filled the pockets of over a thousand workers with family-wage jobs.

In 1953 downtown still had its ‘unrestricted zone’ north of State Avenue where bars, gambling dens, bawdy dance halls and red-light brothels attracted an unending stream of sailors, lumberjacks, mill workers and local farm boys. Soldiers had to sneak-in as all of Olympia as ‘off limits’ to the military.

Back then Olympia’s shopping and core services lay within six downtown blocks south of State Avenue and east of Columbia. Mothers and daughters would get fancied-up for a trip to Sears, J.C. Penney’s or Millers, and dads would hang out at Ben Moore’s or The Spar where they could lay bets on their favorite baseball or football team and enjoy a beer while they watched up-to-the-minute updates sent via ticker-tape, then scribbled on a chalkboard the size of a two or 3 ping pong tables.

By the time Amanda left office in 1960, the unrestricted zone was gone and its unsavory habitués packed up and headed off to greener pastures. The DesChutes River was dammed, Capitol Lake created and a brand-new Interstate 5 sliced through the city. Olympia had changed forever.

MID-CENTURY OLYMPIA POLITICSDan L. McCaughan, an Olympian native and local businessman, served as a City Commissioner following World War II. His tenure on the commission was marked by the challenges of urbanization, rapid change and prosperity.

Jack Taylor, described by the Seattle Times as a “can-do public servant,” began his political career in King County as a County Commissioner. He later served as state lands commissioner, assistant state treasurer, director of the state Pollution Control Commission and CEO of the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission.

I sincerely hope you’re enjoying these episodic posts of the late 1980s oral history show (link below) cablecast as The Story of Olympia … and if you do enjoy and are so moved, please feel free to share

About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
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