Leading ladies: Moses Lake Museum exhibit celebrates the Washington women who led the way

Jan. 11—MOSES LAKE — Washington, and the women who blazed its trails, will go on display Friday at the Moses Lake Museum and Art Center.

"We borrowed this from the Washington Secretary of State's office," said museum Director Dollie Boyd. "They have a program called Legacy Washington. They do exhibits on all sorts of Washington topics and people, and they lend them out to museums and cultural institutions around the state for free."

The exhibit is called "Ahead of the Curve," and it was created four years ago to mark a century of American women having the vote. One of the first things a visitor to the exhibit will see is a display detailing the fight to extend universal suffrage, in which Washington was indeed ahead of the curve.

"Washington led the way in the suffrage movement," Boyd said. "Women in Washington permanently got access to voting 10 years before the rest of the nation did. Actually, they had it for a while, and then they got it taken away (when Washington became a state in 1889), and then they got it back for good in 1910."

As a native of Tennessee, Boyd said, she takes a special interest in the suffrage movement, because that state provided the deciding vote to ratify the 19th Amendment.

The museum will be replete with displays chronicling the advances made by Washington women: politicians, activists, athletes and even mountain climbers. One panel is dedicated to Cora Smith Eaton, who planted a "Votes for Women" banner atop Mount Rainier in 1909, and Melissa Arnott Reid, who in 2016 became the first American woman to climb and descent Mount Everest without bringing oxygen along.

Many of the women faced not just obstacles from their opponents, but condescension from those who wished them well, the exhibit shows. Carolyn Dimmick, at 94 a senior United States district judge and the first woman to serve on the Washington Supreme Court, graduated law school at the University of Washington in 1953 along with two other women. The headline in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper marking the occasion read "Pretty blonde water skier qualifies as attorney."

"It was such a big deal, they had to do a newspaper article on it: 'Three women! Look at these ladies! Look at them go!'" Boyd said. "So think how far she's seen things advance in her lifetime. Now it's no big deal. Women graduate from law school all the time."

To flesh out the exhibit, Boyd has put together a presentation showcasing some influential women in Grant County, which she'll offer Friday. The presentation includes Roxie Thorson, Soap Lake's "queen of the salt mine," and Maggie Waltho, the fearsome Irish-born mayor of Soap Lake in the 1940s who championed the rights of nude bathers and once stripped the town marshal of his gun and badge.

"A woman can take care of this one-horse town," Waltho is quoted as saying at the time. "I'll be the marshal until a better one comes along."

Also showcased is Bertha Eccles, who was postmaster in Moses Lake (then Neppel) when the Moses Lake Inn burned down next to the post office in 1938.

"When the hotel started to burn, she ran into where the mail was, she pulled out all the mail, all the packages, ... all the equipment," Boyd said. "She organized the men who were watching the fire to go in there and pull everything out. Within an hour she had the post office back up in a neighboring building, doing business."

The presentation will also discuss the women's clubs that built many of the things we take for granted in Moses Lake, Boyd said. The Moses Lake Woman's Club founded the Moses Lake library in 1938 and ran it until the city took over in 1955, and the Nisei Women's Club sold aprons and held an annual sukiyaki dinner for many years to raise money for Samaritan Hospital.

The display called "Trading Aprons for Time Cards" looks at women moving en masse out of the home and into workplaces.

"I'm thrilled to bring some of these stories up," Boyd said. "They give you a window into what's going on in our country. We see a lot of women in the workforce in the mid-(20th) century here when we became a boomtown because there were so many jobs available. You're seeing that postwar women-in-the-workforce trend, right here in real time. There's women working at Bell Telephone, there's women working at the base, there's women working everywhere: factories, data processing, they're working in the fields. They're doing all the things to help our town grow and thrive."

The opening reception for "Ahead of the Curve" will take place at 4 p.m. at the Moses Lake Museum & Art Center, 401 S. Balsam St. Dollie Boyd's presentation begins at 6 p.m. in the Civic Center auditorium in the same building. An earlier version of this story misstated the time. The exhibit runs through March 1.

Joel Martin may be reached at