Guild history

Pacific Northwest Historians Guild: A short history

The Pacific Northwest Historians Guild is a local organization. Its conception, however, began in the minds of those involved with the Seattle Public Library receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant. This grant set up “This City Seattle” project, featuring lectures, walking tours, exhibits, etc. about local history. Jean Coberly, SPL librarian was project director and Howard Droker served as resident historian charged with implementing the two year (1979-81) grant. As a result of this role, Droker became acquainted with many people outside the usual academic circles who were knowledgeable about Seattle and Pacific Northwest history. Soon he began to think about bringing them all together. At the same time Paul Spitzer, Corporate historian for Boeing, and Karen Blair, University of Washington professor of Woman Studies, both of whom had participated in the project, were thinking the same thoughts.

Thus a meeting of project participants and other historians, such as Jack Berryman, then with University of Washington, Department of Kinesiology, Professor Robert Burke, University of Washington and Bob Ficken, a University of Washington PhD free-lance historian, convened to learn and share and eventually organize a group to promote local history.

Over 1980-81 others joined the interested group and committees were formed to write by-laws and other necessary documents. They also decided on a name, Pacific Northwest Historians Guild and elected Droker as provisional president.

One issue settled in the broadest possible way was to include the entire Northwest as our subject area. Another more controversial issue centered round the question of whether to include as members all those interested in local history or to limit the membership to academic historians. Wisely the founding members felt that the Guild would benefit from including all who wanted to join.

Monthly meetings included speakers and a time for introductions and information about member’s area of interest. Annual conferences, which in the beginning included a Friday night dinner, as well as papers and panel discussions on Saturday, started in 1985. The conference
Focused on a particular topic, such as the “Civil War in the Pacific Northwest,” and “Conference on Territorial Life, 1853-1889. A year later the Guild began honoring those who had made an outstanding contribution to Pacific Northwest History. Murray Morgan was the first of twenty-eight recipients who, thus far, have received the award. The awards banquet, usually in January, has become an annual event.

And because historians love to write up their findings, the Guild under the expert guidance of Mary Wright published a book, “More Voices, New Stories: King County, Washington’s First 150 Years.” Mary edited the book and Charles P. LeWarne wrote a comprehensive essay about King County. The essays reflected the membership, some by academics, some by newspaper editors, some by historical society personnel, and some by those “interested in history.”

To communicate with its members the Guild published a newsletter. In time it eventually modernized and now communicates via Email and posts information on a website. And since the beginning most tasks have been organized and implemented by many loyal volunteers. Only the conference now employs paid staff. We can even proudly say, unlike most volunteer groups, that the organization has remained financially solvent over its entire history

Of course there have been difficulties. Everyone seems busier today than when the Guild first organized and at times there has been talk of disbanding. But always a dedicated person steps forward to serve on the board and the Guild continues to advance local history.