Zelda Boulanger, who helped found the first Seattle chapter of the National Organization for Women, has died at age 95.
Zelda Boulanger believed women could have it all. As a mother, wife and feminist in the business world, she helped found the first Seattle chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1970.
“She was very much the feminist,” said Sandi Furlong, of Montesano, Grays Harbor County, her daughter-in-law of more than 40 years. Her experiences throughout her life “really made her vow to get things changed so women weren’t held to a lesser standard than men.”
Mrs. Boulanger, who in recent years lived in Tacoma, died March 20. She was 95.
Born in South Fork, N.D., Mrs. Boulanger grew up seeing how hard it was for women to make it on their own.
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At age 6, her father died, forcing her mother to move the family to South Dakota to live near her aunt. The impact of money and the poverty of life on a reservation struck her.
“Money was always important,” Furlong said. “Not to spend it but to have it. When people are poor, they never quite forget it.”
After graduating from high school, Mrs. Boulanger moved to Nome, Alaska, to pursue a civil-service position during World War II.
There, she first met her husband, Ernest Boulanger, but she also faced discrimination against women in the workplace.
While working for the government, she was told “we don’t promote women,” she reported to The Seattle Times in 1986. She then decided to leave for a career in the private sector, securing a job at Boeing.
Later, she worked in real estate during a time when married women had trouble purchasing property without their husbands’ consent. But she wouldn’t settle for less.
Mrs. Boulanger became involved in the Toastmistress Club, teaching women how to debate, make speeches and preparing them for a business world dominated by men.
“She was very community minded and women’s issues were her big issue,” said Patricia Artz, a friend and collaborator in Mrs. Boulanger’s women’s liberation efforts.
Artz, who worked with Mrs. Boulanger in real estate, joined with her to start a women’s forum that met at the Seattle Public Library.
As the movement grew, the women met in the office of Judge Evangeline Starr at the King County Courthouse.
Starr worked with Mrs. Boulanger to advocate for women’s rights in Olympia, and the two women developed the idea of associating their group with NOW. By 1972, Boulanger worked across the state with 14 chapters of the organization.
“She was a very generous and outgoing person,” Artz said, adding that her friend was also savvy. “She could be quite executive in her way.”
Later in life, Mrs. Boulanger said little about her influence on women’s rights, said her granddaughter, Danielle Everson, of Elma, who didn’t learn the extent of her grandmother’s work until she researched family history.
“She could have been being humble about it, and she talked about it, but not a lot,” Everson said.
Mrs. Boulanger was preceded in death by her husband, Ernest; her daughter, Coralee Stephenson; her son, Michael Boulanger; and her son-in-law, Richard Stephenson.
Besides her granddaughter, and daughter-in-law, Mrs. Boulanger is survived by her grandson, Morgan Stephenson, of Tacoma.
A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas Parish, 4415 S. 140th St., Tukwila.
Mary Jean Spadafora: 206-464-2168 or firstname.lastname@example.org