Chasing Civil Liberties

One Woman's Influence on Growing Her Hometown

Eleanor Barrow Chase, from a pioneering African American Spokane family line, helped advance civil rights in the city.

Born at the end of December 1918 in Spokane, Eleanor Barrow Chase was the third-generation of her family to live in the growing city. She attended Lewis and Clark High School and Washington State College. She graduated magna cum laude from Whitworth College in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in music.

A gifted operatic vocalist, she shifted gears when she married James E. Chase and had their first child. In 1954 newly Mrs. Chase, spurred with a newfound desire to work now that their child was in school, joined the State Department of Public Assistance office in Spokane and worked as a social worker for nearly two decades. Chase also garnered praise from local judges when she worked as a juvenile court officer nine years.

Chase was appointed the first woman of color to the Board of Trustees for both Whitworth College, her alma mater, and Eastern Washington University in the 1970s. Her husband James would also go on to break the mold, becoming Spokane’s first black city council member and first black mayor in 1975 and 1981 respectively.

Chase was active in her community. She and her husband were both members of the local NAACP chapter, with James acting as president for 17 years. Chase served on the ethics committee for Deaconess Medical Center as well as held many service projects and committees for the community at large. Her work was invaluable to the city of Spokane and the proportionally small black community. Her name and legacy are memorialized today at the Eleanor Chase House, which acts as a women’s facility for the state Department of Corrections.