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Maxie, Peggy (b. 1936)

HistoryLink.org Essay 8882 : Printer-Friendly Format

Peggy Joan Maxie was the first African American woman to be elected to the Washington State House of Representatives. As a Representative from the 37th District in Seattle she served for six consecutive terms from 1970 to 1982 in Position 2 . She was defeated in 1982 by Gary Locke (b. 1950). Although her critics labeled her as lacking in leadership and making no waves during her legislative years, she was described by some of her colleagues as having integrity, patience, and humility, and believing in thorough analysis and preparation before deciding on a course of action.  Indeed, she looked upon her work as a sort of ministry in caring for the needs of her constituency, which included Mount Baker, Capitol Hill, Madrona, Madison Park, Leschi, and Central Area of Seattle. One of her first acts was to sponsor the bill that brought the first driver-license-testing facility to the Central Area. She learned not to make promises she couldn't keep and to be aware of the state's limitations. She also tried to respond to the many needs of one of the most diverse communities in the county in a balanced way.
 
Early Years
 
Peggy Joan Maxie was born on August 18, 1936, in Amarillo, Texas, to Cleveland and Reba Maxie and came to Seattle with her mother and four siblings in 1942. Her mother was hired immediately by Boeing because of the urgent need for workers during the World War II years. Peggy was sent to first grade at Immaculate Conception and continued attending the school until she graduated from the high school in 1955. After graduation Maxie worked for the attorney general's office as a legal secretary, and for the Seattle Urban League. For nine months she studied with the Sisters of Charity at Providence to become a nun.

She went on to earn a BA in Psychology in 1970 from Seattle University and a MSW from the University of Washington in 1972.
 
Entering Politics
 
According to family lore, Ms. Maxie was asked to enter into politics by her brother Robert Maxie (1935-2000). Their brother Fred Maxie had planned to run in the 1970 race for Position 2 in the 37th District but instead chose to enter law school. Business man David Sprague had held this position but chose not to run again after his home was bombed. He believed that the bombing of his home and that of Fred Dore were indications that the community wanted an African American representative. 

Campaign signs had already been printed with the name Maxie on them so Peggy Maxie ran for the office with the help of her brother Robert, a long-time worker in the Democratic Party. She needed money and organization and Robert took care of everything, even choosing as campaign manager Jim McGill, Professor of English at Seattle University.
 
Robert Maxie, who led an active civic life, was appointed to the Seattle Public Library Board by Mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935) in 1970 and served for 10 years. He was also the owner of a number of restaurants which included the Family Affair at Melrose Avenue and Pine Street and Maxie's Two at 4th Avenue and Jefferson Street. "When everybody came to one of Bob's restaurants, there was no telling who you'd see -- it could be the governor, it could be street people, it could be anybody," said his brother Fred (Rahner). 

It has been said that her name gave her an edge -- for in that year popular Carl Maxey (1924-1997) from Spokane ran against Henry Jackson (1912-1983) in the primary -- and that she rode on the tide of his name.  It should be noted, however, that the Maxie name in Seattle was also familiar because Peggy Maxie's younger brother, Charles Maxie, had run for Port of Seattle Commissioner. 
 
Not long after she was elected, she was accepted to graduate school at the University of Washington. She received special permission from the Dean of Social Work to be a student and a legislator at the same time.

Thus began the 12 year incumbency of Peggy Maxie despite the aspirations of numerous candidates for her seat.
 
Legislative Committees
 
For 10 years Peggy Maxie served on the Appropriations Committee. She served also on several other committees including the Judicial, the Rules, and the Insurance committees.  Beginning in 1972, after being appointed by the Speaker of the House and confirmed by the House of Representatives, she served as Chair of the House Higher Education Committee with the responsibility of supervising six professional employees and one non-professional staff. 

During her tenure as chair of the committee, Governor Dan Evans (b. 1923) had proposed an increase in tuition for students in universities and colleges in the state. The bill had come before the committee three times and not once had anyone asked for an executive session to vote on bills for floor action. Peggy Maxie believed the bill needed more study because it was a new concept in the tuition area. Republicans on the committee sought to amend the House Rules so that a majority of members of the committee could schedule a hearing and set the agenda. They complained that she had refused to call a meeting to consider the tuition increase bill. The proposed rule change was rejected. Maxie then introduced a resolution to establish a citizens' task force to review the question of tuition, develop a policy, and report to the committee prior to the 1977 legislative session. As she said, "We need to have time for more citizen input because raising tuition has consequences for all kinds of people like veterans, working mothers, the poor" (McCoy).
 
Landlord Tenants Act
 
In 1973 Maxie sponsored the house version of the Landlord Tenants Act. This bill is the first of its kind to establish guidelines for the relationship between landlords and tenants such as evictions, rights of landlords if rent is late, etc. The act defines the minimum duties of landlords and tenants in residential dwellings. 

Laws also impose certain restrictions and provide remedies if one party fails to carry out a duty.  The remedies include eviction, reduced rent, self-help repairs and the right to sue for money damages and an award of attorney fees to the successful party. Despite active resistance by a landlord lobbyist, the bill passed.
 
Displaced Homemakers and Legislative Workshops

Along with prime sponsor Lorraine Wojahn (1920-2012) from Tacoma's 27th district, Peggy Maxie co-sponsored the Displaced Homemakers Act, which assists women who find themselves "displaced" in their middle years through divorce, death of spouse, disability of spouse, or other loss of family income of a spouse. These women are often left with little or no income and ineligible for welfare assistance. In addition, they face discrimination because of age and lack of recent work experience. The Displaced Homemakers Act provides for these women to have necessary training opportunities, counseling, and services through community and technical colleges.
 
Near the end of her tenure, in 1981, Peggy Maxie conducted three legislative workshops  of which she is very proud. It was her belief that more people would participate in the legislative process if they knew how it functioned. These were town hall meetings held on May 23 at Seattle University, on September 26 at the University of Washington, and on December 10 at the House Office Building. A total of 600 people attended these workshops.    

Women in Unity
 
Peggy Maxie is a founding member of Women in Unity. It is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to develop and advocate public positions used to educate and spread information on issues which affect the African American community regardless of political affiliation. The group is also concerned with the employment of African American women.
  
 
Peggy Maxie is today (2009) engaged in a business in her home where she runs a consulting service covering such issues as anger management, career transition and guidance, depression, mental-health therapy, and vocational rehabilitation counseling services. She has also served as consultant on numerous educational and community projects.
 
Peggy Maxie received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from St. Martin' College in 1975.

Sources:
"Black and Female; Democratic Legislator from 37th District," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 10, 1972, p. A-5; "Making Ripples in Maxie's Calm Waters," Seattle Sun, September 13, p. 10; "Incumbent Legislators Hold Their Ground; Peggy Maxie Falls," The Seattle Times, September 15, 1982, p. B-3;  Mary Henry interview with Peggy Maxie, Seattle, Washington, December 8, 2008; "Peggy Maxie Wins Battle of Her Political Career," The Seattle Times, March 7, 1976, p. E-1;  Political Pioneers: A Study of Women in the Washington State Legislature, 1983, pamphlet, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library; Mark Rahner, "Robert Maxie, 64, Knew About Diversity; He Lived It," The Seattle Times, February 7, 2000; "Maxie's Attributes and Potentialities," Fililpino American Herald, September 15, 1978, p. 3; John McCoy, "Representative Maxie Halts Tuition Hike Drive," University Daily, February 18, 1976, p. 1.


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Campaign flyer for "The Creative Candidate" Peggy Maxie, 1970
Courtesy Washington State Historical Society (Image No. 1997.80.2)


 
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