Reformers Phyllis Lamphere, Tim Hill, and Sam Smith take seats on Seattle City Council on December 4, 1967.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 4/29/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10381

On December 4, 1967, three reformers -- Phyllis Lamphere (b. 1922), Tim Hill (b. 1936), and Sam Smith (1922-1995) -- take their seats on the Seattle City Council after election wins the previous November. Sam Smith, a former state legislator, is the first African American elected to the council. Phyllis Lamphere becomes one of two women members, with incumbent Myrtle Edwards (1894-1969). Lamphere and Tim Hill are both backed by the reformist group Choose an Effective City Council (CHECC). Their swearing-in ceremony marks a "revolution" on the council and "represents a rebuke of the city's conservative, business-dominated leadership" (Crowley). These three new council members will proceed to lay the groundwork for significant reform on a number of issues, including open housing and open government.

Shaking Up the Status Quo

All three reform candidates had been elected on November 7, 1967, in a vote widely viewed as a shake-up of a staid and entrenched city establishment. However, a society page writer for The Seattle Times focused on fashion issues in the first few paragraphs of a profile on Lamphere, published one day before her first council meeting:

"She is only the fifth woman to win election to the council and she plans to get gussied up for the occasion. She bought a new dress last week especially for the event ... . She frankly likes clothes, and she has a good, tall, slim figure to put them on" (Almquist).

However, the story went on to say that Lamphere was one of the hardest-working women in the League of Women Voters and was "intelligent," with "good academic and business training" (Almquist).

The Seattle Times ran photos of two of the fledgling council members on their first day at city hall. One photo showed Smith at his desk with his wife and three of his children. The other showed Lamphere in her office receiving a rose from two of her daughters, Barbara (b. January 1954) and Claudia (b. December 1954). The new council president, Floyd C. Miller (1902-1985), welcomed the three newcomers, but also issued a warning that the council would be facing bigger problems than in the past. Miller resolved to "meet these problems head on" (Willix).

Each of the three new members gave brief statements. Lamphere said she believed that Seattle could be "one of the great cities of all time" (Willix). Smith asked Seattle citizens to work "to make this city a showpiece of real democracy" (Willix). Hill said "the changes facing Seattle are great -- but Seattle will be able to cope with them" (Willix).

A Running Start

Smith immediately submitted several new proposals: a youth patrol for the police department; a teenage advisory jury system for juvenile offenders; and a plan to hold some council meetings outside of City Hall. Miller referred all of Smith's proposals to committees.

Smith, in an oral history, later said:

"Phyllis Lamphere, Tim, and myself were voted in to break tradition … I felt early on that we would change Seattle. I felt that was the start of a reform movement that would gather steam. And it did" (Smith, p. 81).

This "revolution" would prove to be long-lived. Lamphere served on the council until 1978; Hill until 1979; and Smith until 1991.


Sources: Douglas Willix, "Three New City Council Members Get Welcome, Warning," The Seattle Times, December 5, 1967, p. 13; "Children Check Out Offices of New Council Members," The Seattle Times, December 5, 1967, p. 3; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Seattle Voters Elect Slate of Reformers and first African-American, Sam Smith to the City Council on November 7, 1967 (by Walt Crowley), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed April 19, 2013); June Anderson Almquist, "Phyllis Lamphere Has Many Facets," The Seattle Times, December 3, 1967, p. 6-S; Samuel J. Smith, Samuel J. Smith: An Oral History (Olympia: Washington State Oral History Program, 2000), available online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/oralhistory/smith/smithfull.pdf.

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