Hollingsworth, Dorothy (1920-2022)

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 10/24/1998
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 291
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Dorothy Hollingsworth was the first Black woman in Washington to serve on a school board. She was elected in 1975 to the Seattle School Board and was elected its president in 1979, guiding the board during the tense era of school desegregation. According to The Seattle Times, "Hollingsworth built a reputation as an empathetic advocate for students and as a person with an unbreakable moral compass. Having spent years as a teacher and social worker, Hollingsworth eventually served as Seattle’s first director of Head Start, the program that helps children from low income families" ("Dorothy Hollingsworh, Trailblazer ..."). She died in 2022 at age 101.

A Leader in Education

Dorothy Hollingsworth was born in Bishopville, South Carolina, on October 29, 1920, and moved at an early age to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She attended Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, graduating in 1941. After a five-year teaching career in North Carolina, Hollingsworth came to Seattle in 1946 and began her local career as an investigator for the Department of Welfare. She then took a position in the Seattle schools as a social worker. In 1965, she became the first director of the Seattle school system's Head Start Program (the first in Washington), which she organized and established according to the guidelines of the federal government. Her expertise in childhood education led to her appointment to the advisory committee for the children's TV program Sesame Street.

From 1969 to 1972, she served as Deputy Director for Planning for the Model Cities Program. Officials of the federal government hailed the particular program as one of the best in the nation. "In 1975, Hollingsworth was elected to the Seattle School Board, where she would help lead the effort to racially desegregate schools by busing students across the district. Later, she was elected president of the school board, and in 1984, she was elected to the State Board of Education" ("Dorothy Hollingsworth, Trailblazer ..."). She served on the state board until 1993, working with the legislature and helping to set policy. 

She was a social worker with a passion for children and for education. When the Model Cities Program ended, as Director of Early Childhood Education for the City of Seattle, she set up day care programs and facilities for children. Her background, experience, and managerial skills led to her appointment as Director of Family, Women and Children's Services for the City of Seattle. In the early 1980s, she served as the city's Deputy Director for the Department of Human Resources.

A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the NAACP, she was also organizer and charter member of the Les Dames Bridge Club, formed in 1947.

Awards and honors have been heaped upon Hollingsworth, a woman of extraordinary energy and talent. Among them are the Matrix Table Award, 1976; Edwin T. Pratt Award, 1986; Nordstrom's Cultural Diversity Award, 1992; and the Isabel Colman Pierce Award, 1994.


Dorothy Hollingsworth interview by Mary Henry, September 25, 1998; "Seattle Urban League to Honor Hollingsworth," The Medium, May 7, 1986; "Seattle Educator Honored," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 20, 1997, p. A-8; Emma B. Jones, "Dorothy Hollingsworth-Community Service Award," The Facts, January, 1979; "Reception in Honor of Dorothy Hollingsworth," The Facts, March 3, 1982; "Five Honored for Promoting Cultural Harmony," The Skanner, September 30, 1992. Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, "Dorothy Hollingsworth, Trailblazer in Seattle’s Education, Civil Rights Community, Dies at 101," The Seattle Times, July 28, 2022 (www.seattletimes.com). Note: This entry was updated on March 10, 2021, and on July 28, 2022.

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