Did you know that Northwest Center was founded by four Seattle moms? That those women went on to write the very first laws in the nation to guarantee an education to children with disabilities? That starting way back in the 1960s, the “basement schools” that were the precursor to Northwest Center were pioneering therapy concepts similar to Temple Grandin’s “squeeze machine,” and in 1980 we were already running a completely inclusive early learning center? Northwest Center celebrates its 55th anniversary on September 14. Here we take a look back at the groundbreaking work that four amazing women achieved.
One of those women, Janet Taggart, recently shared her thoughts with us on video that you can watch here. Janet’s daughter Naida, who passed away in 2018, inspired her to work on behalf of all children. Not only was Naida barred from attending local schools as a child, she was turned away from Sunday school and even doctor’s offices. Janet tells that story and many others—including how an insightful instructor had the idea to wrap Naida in a blanket to help her gain a sense of her surroundings—in this 2015 interview: “We Did What We Had to Do.”
Founding mother Cecile Lindquist was a powerhouse in her own right. She joined the fight for disability rights when her cousin Tommy, who had Down syndrome, was turned away from school. Cecile worked in inclusive education for her entire career, and continued working on behalf of disability rights for her entire life until she passed away in 2019. Read about Cecile’s legacy (and view a video interview with her and Janet) here, and a longer interview from 2015 here.
Another amazing woman was Evelyn Chapman, who passed away in 2016. One story sums up Evelyn’s fearlessness—and the tenacity of every one of our founders:
After Evelyn helped found Northwest Center, a place where her son Coolidge could finally go to school, she was infuriated when Northwest Center’s first director began to reject kids deemed “too difficult to serve.” The women who founded Northwest Center had to lobby the board members if they wanted to overrule the director, but they were not official staff members—they had no access to NWC’s office and no way to contact the board (in 1966, the only option was using the phone). That didn’t stop Evelyn. She grabbed a lock cutter and, with her baby daughter in tow, went to NWC offices after hours, broke into the director’s office, and stole the list of board members’ contact information. Then our founding mothers contacted all the board members to lobby them to replace the director. (They succeeded!) Read a 2015 interview with Evelyn here.
The fourth of our amazing founders was Katie Dolan, who passed away in 2006. Katie was a Seattle icon before she became a fierce advocate for kids with disabilities like her son: she was a model, actress, and host of the shows “Women’s World” and “Eye on Seattle” on KIRO-TV. She used her formidable smarts and charm to change the laws to include kids like her son in schools. Together with Janet Taggart, she formed the organization The Troubleshooters, where they worked to ensure that children and adults with disabilities received deserved benefits and services, and which inspired legislation that established Protection and Advocacy agencies in every state in the U.S. Learn more about Katie here: A Force and a Friend.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Janet Taggart, Cecile Lindquist, Evelyn Chapman, and Katie Dolan started a revolution for the inclusion of children and adults with disabilities at home, school, and in the community. Fifty-five years later, Northwest Center is proud to carry on their legacy. Join us, because this is one revolution that can never afford to slow down.