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Dixy Lee Ray accepts directorship of Seattle's Pacific Science Center in 1963. Essay 604 : Printer-Friendly Format

In 1963, Dr. Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) accepts the directorship of Seattle's Pacific Science Center, which is in desperate need of funding and strong leadership. She serves for nine years and is widely credited with its survival.

Ray, an associate professor of zoology at the University of Washington, had served as a member of the science advisory board for the United States Science Exhibit at Century 21, the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. After the fair, the exhibit building – with its distinctive “space Gothic” arches – was renamed the Pacific Science Center. As director of the center, Ray brought in new exhibits that de-mystified science and made it more accessible to the general public. She did so despite the protests of some of her colleagues in the scientific community, who objected to the idea of popularizing science. "I did my best to mold that institution into a scientific facility to which people from any walk of life could go for answers to scientific questions that puzzled them,” she said later. “I'm happy and pleased ... that the science center is a permanent feature of Seattle" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

In 1972, President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) appointed Ray to the Atomic Energy Commission, even though her background was in marine biology, not nuclear physics. She served as chairman of the commission from 1973 until it was disbanded in 1975. Later that year, President Gerald Ford (1913-2006) named her Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, International Environment, and Scientific Affairs, but she resigned after only six months, complaining that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) ignored her and she did not have sufficient staff to get her work done.

Ray was elected governor of Washington state, as a Democrat, in 1976. She served one term before being defeated, in the Democratic primary, for re-election in 1980.

Mildred Tanner Andrews, Woman’s Place: A Guide to Seattle and King County History (Seattle: Gemil Press, 1994), 162-64); Louis R. Guzzo, Is It True What They Say About Dixy?: A Biography of Dixy Lee Ray (Seattle: Writing Works, 1980); Making a Difference: A Centennial Celebration of Washington Women Vol. 2 ed. by Jennifer James-Wilson and Brenda Owings-Klimek (Olympia: Office of Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1990), 223-254; “Former Gov. Dixy Lee Ray Dies,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 3, 1994, pp. 1, 4, 5; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Ray, Dixy Lee (1914-1994)" (by Paula Becker), (accessed January 2012).
Note: This essay was revised on January 25, 2012.

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Related Topics: Women's History | Science & Technology | Government & Politics |

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Click here to play
Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) discussing the U.S. Science Exhibit, precursor to Pacific Science Center, Seattle, 1962
Courtesy MOHAI (Film 1963.3119.145)

Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994)

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