Civic activist and politician Lois North was elected to the state House of Representatives in November 1968 representing the 44th District, serving portions of King and Snohomish counties. After three terms in the House (1969-1975), she was elected to the state Senate where she took her place as one of only three women senators. North served in the Senate from 1975 to 1979. A moderate Republican, she was part of the Women's Political Caucus as well as the Women's Council created by Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925); sponsored the state abortion reform bill in 1970 and the Washington Equal Rights Amendment; supported tax reform (which failed), and was a strong leader on environmental issues. In 1979 she resigned her Senate seat to take a position on the King County Council, on which she served until 1991. Lois North never lost an election. Following her years as county councilwoman, she continued to live in Seattle and she remained active in civic organizations.
Lois Hiester, the youngest of three children, was born in Berkeley, California, on November 23, 1921, to Cyrus Hiester and Anna Bertelse Hiester. Growing up she enjoyed discussing politics with her family and in both junior high and high school in Berkeley she was active in student government, social organizations, and the debate team. She received a B.A. and General Secondary Teaching Certificate from U.C. Berkeley and then did graduate studies, first at Berkeley and later at Columbia University.
Heister met Douglass C. North (b. 1920) in college, when he was a senior and she a junior. On June 29, 1944, they married in Albany, California, a small community near Berkeley. She taught high school history and music and Douglass spent a year in the Merchant Marines during World War II before beginning what would be a very distinguished career. In 1993 Douglass C. North received a Nobel Memorial Prize for his work in the history of economics. The couple divorced in 1972.
Homemaker and Community Activist
In 1950 Douglass North accepted a teaching position at the University of Washington and the Norths moved to Seattle. They both loved outdoor sports and their new location, and it was here that their three sons were born: Douglass (b. 1951), Christopher (b. 1954) and Malcolm (b. 1957). In the children's early years, Lois North was a stay-at-home mom but also became active in the League of Women Voters of Seattle, serving as its president from 1963 to 1967.
North claimed no political party affiliation at this time and was drawn to the league because of its non-partisan work in informing citizens about political issues, thus helping to create better government. Specifically North advocated for a state income tax and the right for 18-year-olds to vote. She also supported a constitutional amendment that would redistrict the state every 10 years. As league president, North lobbied in Olympia, particularly on the issue of legislative redistricting.
Re-districting and the King County Charter
The League of Women Voters was deeply involved in a 1962 redistricting effort. As North remembered it:
"I became very involved in redistricting. The League of Women Voters back in 1957 had written an initiative to redistrict and reapportion the state legislature, which had not been done for years and years. They did it by circulating an initiative, getting the signatures and the voters approved it. And then the legislature proceeded to dismantle it, which is their prerogative, but it was a hard thing to watch. It was time for redistricting to be done again, and I ended up as state chairman for that project, doing the drafting of it. We worked with advisors from both political parties and held hearings all over the state. We had public input as much as possible and presented it to the voters. It was crushingly turned down and defeated. The powers that be did not want any change and everybody that stood to lose any representation, either a senator or a representative, just got together and saw it did not pass. So that was quite a learning experience" (North Oral History, p. 4).
Defeated though it was, the redistricting effort advanced North's political skills and in 1967 she won election as one of 15 freeholders to a King County commission assembled to draft a new county charter. Main issues were whether county offices should be appointive or elective and whether candidates should run with a party affiliation or in non-partisan races, as did the Seattle City Council. The commission's job was to make recommendation to the voters, who would decide. North supported having a county administrator and liked having it a partisan race but did not have a strong preference as to whether this should be an appointed or an elected position. She stated to the press that she believed King County government should be strengthened and made more efficient before taking on new services. In 1968 voters approved the commission's proposed King County Charter.
Representative Lois North, 1969-1975
In 1967 Republican representative from the 44th District Tim Hill (b. 1936) won a seat on the Seattle City Council and Seattle Republican Lon F. Backman was appointed to fill the remainder of Hill's term. Hill encouraged North to run for the position. With strong support from her husband and friends, North filed as a candidate, although she worried about fundraising and felt she was still relatively unknown.
North was elected to the state House of Representatives in November 1968, becoming one of only five women in the House at that time. The win necessitated a second home in Olympia.
By 1969 the Puget Sound region faced hard economic times due to the loss of important contracts to its largest employer, the Boeing Airplane Company. Massive company layoffs led to an unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent, in what became known as the "Boeing Bust."
North had chosen to run as a Republican, not a bad choice since the Republicans were powerful in the House at that time and North's views were in line with other moderate Republicans that she respected, such as Governor Dan Evans, state House Representative Joel Pritchard (1925-1997), and Tim Hill. North supported Evans's agenda and, in her first session, she sponsored six bills dealing with the environment, five of which passed. These dealt with assessing state open space, mandating liability for oil spillage, clarifying the state's authority to set effluent standards, and creating a state recreational trail system. North supported the governor in seeking tax reform, an effort that failed.
She served in the House during a time of great productivity. Legislators tackled growing transportation problems, water and air-quality issues, land-use planning, designation of green belts, education, and housing and urban renewal.
Women's House Work
Being one of five women in a state House of 99 representatives, North was involved in women's issues. Although she did not see herself as a part of the women's liberation movement, which would come to prominence in the mid- to late 1970s, she was passionate about working for fairness and equality for women. Campaigning in 1968, North was often asked about her position on abortion reform, which she openly supported, stating that choice should be one a woman makes with her doctor. At that time North was reflecting a bi-partisan opinion, strongly supported by Republican leaders like Joel Pritchard and Governor Evans. As years went on the abortion-reform issue increasingly became a hot-button divisive issue.
Lois North entered the legislature at a time of change to the structure and functioning of the governing body itself. For women in the House in the early 1970s, there were many moments of frustration and comedy. North recalled that in her first House term, fellow representatives would rise to seat her when she entered committee meetings, showing their surprise at seeing a female there at all. Women were sometimes passed over for committee appointments.
During his term as governor, Albert Rosellini (1910-2011) had started a Commission on the Status of Women, which Governor Evans continued under the simpler name of the Women's Council. As part of the Women's Council -- and with bipartisan support -- North took the lead during her second term in sponsoring an abortion-reform bill, which she hoped to make as an amendment to the criminal code.
But she soon realized it would have a better chance of passing as a referendum to voters. (Of the five women representatives in the House, four supported abortion reform). Passed by popular vote in November 3, 1970, Washington's Initiative 20 revised the state's 1909 abortion law, making it legal for a woman to have an abortion during the first four months of pregnancy.
Washington and the ERA
Governor Evans pushed for a state Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). As part of the Republican caucus, which then dominated the House, Lois North was asked to take the lead:
"They came to me and said, 'Would you be willing to stick your neck out and be a prime sponsor on this?' and I thought it was a great honor since I had only been in the House two years, and that's considered not a very experienced legislator. So yes, I did that. ... I always remember as the prime sponsor for the state equal rights amendment, when it was brought to the floor for its first reading, this crotchety old farmer from Eastern Washington rose up and he said, 'Mrs. North, will you accept a friendly amendment?' And I said, 'Well, that depends.' He said, 'After the words 'equal rights' I would like to add 'and responsibilities'. And I quickly thought, he's absolutely right. And I said, 'Yes, I think that strengthens the amendment.' From then on it was smooth sailing. It really made a difference to the conservative men in that body that it wasn't just rights but the responsibilities that went along with it. I've never forgotten that" (North Oral History, pp. 6, 10).
North was also a key leader in Washington's ratification of the federal ERA. Unlike the United States Constitution, Washington's state constitution contains an Equal Rights amendment that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all areas of public life. Voters approved the amendment to the state constitution in November 1972 in a very close vote and on March 22, 1973, the Washington State Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. But in order to change the United States constitution, a yes vote is needed by two-thirds of the states, an accomplishment that, as of 2015, has not happened.
In 1983 Lois North commented:
"Nobody questions women's right to be in the Legislature anymore or that they have a contribution to make. However, there is one exception. There is still a double standard, and more expected of women than of men. Men will put up with an incompetent male colleague, but they simply won't tolerate it with a woman. She has to be better than just average. I think most of the women in the Legislature will tell you the same thing" (Political Pioneers, 50).
Senator Lois North 1975-1979
In July 1974, Republican Ted Peterson, a 16-year state senator, announced in a news conference that he was retiring from his 44th District seat. The seventh Republican to leave the Senate that year, Peterson gave as his reason the new time demands of the legislature, due to continuing sessions. Peterson endorsed Lois North, who had joined him in the news conference to announce she would give up her House seat to run for state Senate.
North was considered the underdog in the race that fall with Democratic candidate Fred H. Dore (1925-1996), a veteran politician living in the 44th District. North campaigned by doorbelling but also had endorsements of key Republicans, including Dan Evans. The campaign was described by the press as lackluster and, on November 6, 1974, North narrowly won. Dore paid for a recount that added five votes to North's tally. Lois North would serve in the state Senate for three terms, primarily working on Education Committee issues but also serving on the Ecology, Local Government, Social and Health Serves, and Energy and Utilities committees.
King County Council 1980-1991
Lois North retired from the Senate in 1979 and won a position on the King County Council, representing District 4, which included Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, and Northwest King County. She was re-elected for three terms, serving as council chair in 1982, 1990, and 1991.
North's first two years as a councilwoman were years of severe economic recession and her term on the County Council largely spanned Ronald Reagan's years as president. By the mid-1980s growth issues dominated the King County agenda, with dwindling federal funds available for solutions.
Notable issues faced by King County Council at this time included negotiating a garbage-disposal contract with Seattle, removing the Richmond Beach sewage-treatment plant, and developing and expanding city and county parks. North and the council supported a $31.5 million bond issue for improvements to the Woodland Park Zoo, which voters passed in the fall of 1986 with 66 percent majority support. On the Seattle front, Mayor Charles Royer (b. 1939) and the Seattle City Council struggled with a land-use plan to control growth in the downtown area.
North faced a tough competitor for her council seat in 1987 in Democrat Bobbe Bridge, a woman lawyer with the strong support of the Seattle downtown business establishment. North won in a close race, making her one of the few remaining Republican office holders in Seattle. Had she been defeated, Democrats would have had a veto-proof majority on the King County Council. But the win was bittersweet, since three councilmembers had supported Bridge and North's win led to an uneasy relationship with the council.
In 1991 Lois North chose not to run for another term. That year the League of Women Voters of Seattle and King County chose her as their Woman of the Year.
Continuing Public Service
Following her retirement from the King County Council, Lois North continued to hold key positions. In 1998 she was chosen to head the Elevated Transportation Company board, a creation of the Monorail Initiative (for possible extension of the Seattle Monorail) and in 2000 Governor Gary Locke (b. 1950) appointed her to the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, on which she served until 2006.
North also served as a board member of Swedish Hospital/Ballard Campus Foundation, Northwest Hospital, the Municipal League of King County, and Planned Parenthood. Her longtime affiliation with the League of Women Voters of Seattle and King County continued and she was active in the Business and Professional Women's Club and the Blue Ridge Community Club. In 2004 the Municipal League presented Lois North with its Warren G. Magnuson Award for her years of service.
Through her long career, the press gave Lois North and her issues frequent coverage. She was described as hardworking, effective, and blunt, with the style of a schoolmarm, a candid person who did not hesitate to use her favorite words, "Hogwash" and "Poppycock." Yet she was known for fairness and for her ability to work with those of varying viewpoints and with her legislative colleagues across the party aisle. In 2008 Sherry Boswell interviewed North for the ERA Oral History Project of the Washington State Historical Society. In the interview, North spoke of the importance of collaboration:
"I enjoyed and admired the true legislative process of debating and amending and polishing and compromising and coming out -- hammering out is a good word to use -- for a good strong piece of legislation with the benefit of many different viewpoints. Very often you might propose something and you think it is ideal or it is in good shape. Then by the time it gets through the legislative hearing and process, it's improved! It's the result of many minds rather than just a few. So I always found that an exhilarating experience" (North Oral History, p. 7).