Dorothy Hollingsworth spent almost a century working on behalf of women, children, families, equal education, housing, the church and jobs. She found time to help and encourage thousands of young people, many who considered her their role model. A towering spirit, although she stood a stern 5 feet 2 inches tall, she was the loudest voice for the underdog.
Dorothy Lee Thomas Hollingsworth was born on October 29, 1920, in Bishopville, South Carolina. Her parents, John and Sarah moved the family to Winston-Salem, North Carolina in pursuit of a better life and more opportunities.
Dorothy was the oldest of three children. Her sister died at 14 of pneumonia and her brother died from injuries sustained in World War II. Dorothy once said she always knew she wanted to help people--a desire that grew after learning about social work as a career at an eighth-grade job fair.
When the family struggled financially, Dorothy wanted to quit school and join her parents who worked both day and night shifts on the factory floor at the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Her parents would not allow it believing the factory would end her dreams and insisted Dorothy continue her schooling. After graduating from Atkins High School, a missionary from the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church encouraged Dorothy to further her education. She was accepted at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia and was granted a scholarship from the missionaries.
And so, in the fall of 1937, fortified with money from the church’s special Sunday collection and a trunk of belongings packed by her mother, Dorothy enrolled in the historically Black college. While a student, she worked as a dishwasher in the school cafeteria to help pay for books and class materials. She graduated in 1941, with degrees in social science and education and was immediately hired as a third-grade teacher. After working at jobs in Georgia and North and South Carolina, Dorothy met her husband, the late Raft Hollingsworth Sr., a soldier stationed at one of the military bases she would frequently visit with her friends.
In 1946, the newlyweds moved to Seattle to be closer to Raft’s mother. The couple sought a new beginning in the hope of escaping the hardships of the South that came with repressive Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. The couple’s family grew with their first born, a daughter Jacqueline Hollingsworth Roberts followed by a son, Raft Hollingsworth Jr. (Rhonda). As her children grew more independent, Dorothy, a stay-at-home mom, became active in the Seattle Madison Branch YMCA, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and her beloved sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated. She started supper and bridge clubs with family friends so that they could enjoy social gatherings denied them due to segregation.
In 1950, Dorothy became an investigator for the State of Washington’s Department of Welfare—a job that would take her all over the state, interacting with families and starting her on the road to public service. A life-long learner, Dorothy enrolled at the University of Washington, and in 1959 she received her master’s degree from the School of Social Work. After graduating, she became a social worker for Seattle Public Schools.
In the early 1960s, Dorothy became involved in the local civil rights movement, protesting restrictive covenants, fighting for equitable education and open housing initiatives throughout the city.
In 1965, she was selected as the Director of Head Start, a program that was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society’s national anti-poverty initiative—the first in Washington State. Her high visibility in the post led the National Director of Head Start to appoint her to the National Advisory Board of Sesame Street. From 1969 to 1971, Dorothy served as Deputy Director of Planning for the Model Cities Program, an initiative combining federal, state, and local resources to develop urban cities. Later, she became an Associate Director of Project Planning overseeing more than 45 projects in education, arts, culture, economic development, job training, healthcare, welfare, and legal services. When the program ended in 1975, she became the Director of Seattle’s Early Childhood Education establishing day care programs and facilities for children throughout the city. That same year, she launched a successful campaign and was the first African American woman to be elected to the Seattle School Board, becoming board president in 1979. Dorothy served a six-year term helping to guide the city through racial tensions escalated with the desegregation of schools.
In the early 1980s, Dorothy was appointed to Deputy Director for Seattle’s Department of Human Resources and was elected to the Washington State Board of Education as the representative from the 7th District, serving from 1984 until her retirement in 1993. Her final appointment was serving as a board trustee for Seattle Community Colleges. In 2021, the Evergreen School District opened Hollingsworth Academy in honor of Dorothy’s achievements in education.
Her numerous accolades throughout her lifetime include the Matrix Table Award (1976); Edwin T. Pratt Award (1986); Nordstrom's Cultural Diversity Award (1992); the Isabel Colman Pierce Award (1994) and in 2010, she was honored by the University of Washington Women’s Center on the 100th anniversary of female suffrage.
With her battle over and the whisper of “well done”, Dorothy was peacefully called home on the morning of Tuesday, July 26, 2022. In addition to her two children, Dorothy is survived by her grandchildren Joy Hollingsworth (Iesha), Raft Hollingsworth III, Natalie Long and Melvin Roberts, Jr.
The celebration of Dorothy’s life and legacy will be held on Thursday, August 25, 2022, 11a.m. at First AME Church, 1522 14th Avenue in Seattle. For more information about Dorothy’s legacy, please visit www.dorothyhollingsworth.com.
Dorothy said a resounding YES to God’s calling. But it was never about who she worked for…it was about how hard she worked for them to build a legacy that will continue to transform communities for years to come.