Helen Sommers: An Oral History

Helen Sommers

Helen Sommers grew up in Woodbury Heights, New Jersey, in the '30s. When she graduated from high school, she went to work as a clerk at Mobil Oil Co. "Girls were encouraged to take such classes as typing and bookkeeping in those times, so that was my focus." Mobil Oil gave her an opportunity for a position in Caracas, Venezuela in 1954. While there, Helen decided to take college correspondence courses and enrolled in a program at the University of Washington. She had never traveled to the northwest until 1965, when she came up for summer school at U of W. She moved to Seattle in '68 and went on to earn her B.A. and Masters in Economics.

Throughout Helen's life she was 'born a feminist.' She was very active in Seattle's League of Women Voters and became the second president of the fledgling National Organization of Women. Through those efforts and the support of other feminists, Helen ran for and won a seat to the state House of Representatives (D-36th District) in 1972. Helen was one of just 12 women in the 98 member body in the 1973 session. There were no women in the Senate.

She went on to serve in the House for 36 years; 18 successful elections. She served as chair of five different committees, including House Appropriations. During her career, the legislature advanced from the "good-old boys club" in 1973; to our state having the highest percentage of female legislators in the United States. Helen served as Chair of five House committees, including her prized "Appropriations Chair" for about a decade before she retired in 2009.

Due to its size, there are two versions of the Helen Sommers oral history available. Both are PDF files and have identical content, but the resolution of the photographs are different to decrease the file size.
Helen Sommers: An Oral History - 7 MB PDF (lower resolution photographs, smaller file size, faster download)
Helen Sommers: An Oral History - 18 MB PDF (higher resolution photographs, larger file size, slower download)

Photographs from the book signing for Helen Sommers: An Oral History - 1973-2009

Click the photos below to see a larger version.

Sommers and Linville
On Dec. 9, 2010, Helen Sommers returned to her beloved Capital Campus for a 'book signing' of the Helen Sommers Oral History book. Helen greets Rep. Kelli Linville (D-42nd District) who succeeded Helen as Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Helen served 36 years representing the 36th Legislative District.
Sommers and Monahan
Dan Monahan, 30-year legislative staffer, worked with Helen for more than two years researching, editing and interviewing Helen and others about her career for the Helen Sommers Oral History Book. Helen and Dan both retired from the House in 2009. "Working with Helen for many years she served in the House, and working again with her on this project has been the highlight of my career," Monahan said.

Book signing 1
Melinda McCrady, Director of Communications and Policy for the House Democratic Caucus, works feverishly with Helen as she autographs more than a hundred copies of her Oral History Book for her many legislative friends, including Governors Dan Evans, Booth Gardner, Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire; Speakers Frank Chopp, Clyde Ballard, Wayne Ehlers, Joe King and so many legislators, staff and friends.
Book signing 2
Helen signs a copy of her Oral History book for Ken Conte, who has served for decades as Director of the Office of Program Research.