Seattle public school system hires Thelma Dewitty and Marita Johnson as first black instructors in September 1947.

  • By HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 2/09/2001
  • Essay 2976
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In September 1947, the Seattle public school system hires Thelma Dewitty (1912-1977) and Marita Johnson as its first African American instructors. Thelma Dewitty is hired as a second grade teacher at the Cooper Elementary School in West Seattle. Marita Johnson is hired to teach a course in household service at Broadway-Edison Technical School.

Thelma Dewitty's Story

Thelma Dewitty, age 34, was a graduate of Wiley College in Washington, DC, and had been teaching in Texas schools for 14 years. For the past two summers she had been traveling to Seattle to be with her husband, an army veteran who was a civilian employee of Seattle's Port of Embarkation.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that "Mrs Dewitty was still amazed to find herself a public school teacher here. She wanted to come to Seattle probably more than any other teacher hired this year. ... Now the Dewittys are going to buy a house, have their furniture shipped here, and be an ordinary family again, Mrs. Dewitty said with considerable satisfaction."

Marita Johnson's Story

Marita Johnson, age 35, was a graduate of a Georgia normal school and of the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. She was hired to train women, both black and white, who wished to enter domestic work (as household servants).

Johnson worked as a cook and a domestic to earn money to attend the Hampton Institute. Later she managed the Young Women's Christian Association's cafeteria in Dayton, Ohio. In Seattle she was institution manager of the Seattle Children's Home before taking the teaching job.

She explained to a reporter that during the war (World War II had recently ended), no one wanted to work as a domestic, but recently the Urban League, an organization dedicated to the advancement of people of color, had received applications from women, both black and white, wanting to go into domestic service, but with no training. Therefore the new course had been instituted.


Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 Through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 175; "Two Negro Teachers Hired Here," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 4, 1947, p. 5.

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