Thelma DeWitty was one of two black teachers hired in 1947 in Seattle.
In the fall of 1947, Seattle Public Schools hired its first two black teachers. Marita Johnson taught a domestic-service course at Broadway-Edison Technical School, and Thelma Fisher DeWitty taught second grade at Frank B. Cooper School in West Seattle. DeWitty was the subject of many news stories over her 25-year tenure in Seattle. Born in Beaumont, Texas, DeWitty graduated from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. Though she had taught in Texas for 14 years, segregation policies there prevented her from continuing her studies. As a result, the state of Texas paid her tuition and train fare to study at the University of Washington. Her husband had been working at the Seattle Port of Embarkation — which moved Army troops and supplies — when DeWitty began graduate work at the UW. She told The Times she looked forward to establishing a home in Seattle after being able to see her husband only during summer school breaks. After her first seven weeks at Cooper School, DeWitty said she had not experienced any racial discrimination: “I think I’ve had more visits from parents than any other teacher in school, primarily through curiosity, I suppose. But everyone is most friendly,” DeWitty told the Times in an Oct. 22, 1947, story. Students would bring her flowers, she added. Recordings of DeWitty remember her time at the school can be heard here. Principal Lester Roblee said in a story that one parent had expressed “doubt as to Mrs. DeWitty’s fitness for her job,” but he assumed that it had been resolved after he saw DeWitty and the parent talking at a PTA meeting. A year later, The Times wrote that six black women, including DeWitty, would be teaching in Seattle schools. DeWitty would go on to teach at Meany Middle School, John Hay Elementary, Laurelhurst Elementary and Sand Point Elementary before retiring in 1972. DeWitty passed away Aug. 19, 1976, in Seattle at age 63. UPDATE 4:37 p.m. Robert Roblee, son of Lester Roblee who was DeWitty’s principal at Frank B. Cooper School, wrote in saying that he helped set up a scholarship at the Pride Foundation to recognize and honor the accomplishments of DeWitty. You can read more about the scholarship on their website.