Marion Moos, a Spokane activist who opened the city’s first and only feminist bookstore and founded the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, died May 21. She was 95.
She died of natural causes after living three years with dementia, according to her daughter, Ginny Moos.
Described as “Spokane feminist Marion Moos” in countless articles throughout the 1970s and ’80s, she fought on the front lines of political activism during the so-called second wave of feminism. Her most notable campaigns included work to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, her fight against the sexist symbol of the 1977 Lilac Festival and a successful charge against a Disneyland-like amusement park in Riverfront Park.
Despite her successes in activism, Moos had less luck winning votes. Her attempts to run the Spokane County Democratic Party and help rewrite the county charter were rebuffed at the ballot box.
“She passionately cared about every single individual and assisted them protecting their own rights. It was really important to her that you can’t take that for granted,” Ginny Moos said. “She did as much as she could to make a dent in the patriarchy.”
Lisa Brown, director of the state Commerce Department and the former state Senate majority leader, called Moos “a feminist and a fearless advocate for women in politics.”
“She was an activist when I got to Spokane and a champion for people in politics, for women in particular,” said Brown, a friend and neighbor to Moos. “She was a lifelong advocate.”
Moos grew up in Spokane, the daughter of parents who encouraged her education. After getting a sociology degree from Washington State College in 1947, she married Gene Moos and moved to his family’s farm in Edwall, where her two daughters, Angela and Ginny, were born.
In 1955, Moos joined the Methodist Church Women’s Division, a group that promoted social responsibility, and began to travel the country for national meetings with the church. In 1970, she went to New York City with the church group and was introduced “to the notion of the women’s movement,” according to a 1985 Eastern Washington University master’s thesis by Lindy Cater about Moos.
She had passed a storefront office for the congressional campaign of Bella Abzug, a leading feminist at the time along with Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan. Moos the “radical” feminist was born.
Founding Spokane’s feminist bookstore
Back in Spokane, Moos was “fired up,” according to a 1993 profile of Moos marking her 70th birthday. With other “budding feminists” she founded Spokane’s first chapter of NOW in 1973, and opened the Past-Time Feminist Bookstore on South Wall Street.
In a July 1973 Spokesman-Review article about the store’s opening, Moos said it was more than a bookstore. She saw it as a resource center for women and “a place where women can come and talk and browse.” The store was not only meant to sell books but to “give assistance and act as consultants” for women who faced discrimination. It had a section on women’s rights in the workplace and sold books like “Sexual Politics,” “The Young Woman’s Guide to Liberation” and “Unbecoming Men.”
Ginny Moos said the bookstore remained one of her mother’s proudest moments.
“It was more than a bookstore. It was a very difficult time for the whole country. Many people came into her store and found an identity. They really felt like they could breathe,” she said. “Whether it was women’s issues or liberalism or politics, it was a friendly place to discuss things.”
Karen Dorn Steele, a former Spokesman-Review and KSPS-TV reporter who covered Moos for decades, said Moos and the bookstore operated at a time when Spokane was “very conservative. It was very rare to have someone like Marion speaking out.”
“The bookstore was just a treasure. They had books you couldn’t get anywhere else,” Dorn Steele said. “It was an exciting atmosphere.”
It was during this time that Moos began delivering messages that spoke to women and men alike.
“What really blows my mind,” she said in 1975, “are men who make the decisions as they sit on boards, while women do the day-to-day work because, as they say, they have lots of time.”
The store closed in 1977, but reopened a year later under management of a cooperative that included Moos. The word “feminist” was struck from its name.
In 1977, the people who ran the Lilac Festival unveiled an image they hoped would reflect the festival’s role in Spokane. It was an illustration of a young woman, blonde and blue-eyed.
Moos wasn’t having it. Under her leadership, NOW, joined by the local NAACP, called the illustration “sexist” and “racist” for its depiction of the “white beauty.” Moos said the cartoonish illustration of a woman represented “overt and covert sexism” and called the design “cheap. A sexy femme fatale with a come-hither look. It is so gross.”
“There’s no way we can accept the image of Spokane as a blonde, blue-eyed, buxom woman,” Moos said. “This is sexism and racism. They’re selling a woman’s body, not a festival.”
Moos said she was “dismayed” that the festival’s executive committee, which created 10,000 buttons with the image to be distributed, didn’t resolve the issue in advance, but she hoped the organizers would rectify the issue. She said the festival is “a special time. It doesn’t need a gimmick.”
Moos’ criticism of the button was echoed at City Hall by Patricia Marx, the city’s affirmative action officer, and Councilwoman Marilyn Stanton. Marx called the buttons “very tacky, unprofessional,” and said it was “sad that this is the only way they can think of to sell Spokane.” Stanton called the imagery “unfortunate.”
Despite the call not to use the buttons, the Spokane Fire Prevention Bureau made a show out of selling them for $1 one Friday at City Hall, where they sold “like cold beer in a pizza parlor on an August night,” according to an April 1977 Spokesman-Review story.
“Most City Hall button buyers guffawed at the controversy, passing it off as a joke,” the article said. “The button-buying spree appeared to be a reverse response.”
In 1977, Moos was named to the Washington state committee involved in coordinating a nationwide series of meetings on women’s rights, which met in Ellensburg and developed a timetable for removing state barriers to equality. The committee was formed following congressional action in 1976 creating the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year.
In 1978, The Spokesman-Review reported that a “tongue-lashing from an irate feminist” convinced the chair of the Spokane County Board of Commissioners to change the process used in appointing new members to boards and commissions.
“I assure you, I’ll do it differently next time,” said Harry Larned, after Moos leaned into an examination of the county process, which included a letter to Gov. Dixy Lee Ray.
In a 1979 profile, pegged to her fight to help promote the ultimately unsuccessful Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, The Spokesman-Review said Moos “hasn’t changed. Spokane has.” Washington state ratified the amendment in 1973, one of 37 states to do so. The law’s deadline to be fully ratified by 38 states was 1979, and it remains unfinished.
“Once a notorious rebel spouting radical feminism, Ms. Moos has become something of a pillar of Spokane society – consistently upholding well-established values that are as traditional as ‘liberty and justice for all,’ ” the newspaper article said. “Certainly, not everyone in town agrees with Ms. Moos. But she’s earned respect for her sincerity, her consistency, her political acumen – and done so because, more often than not, the law is on her side.”
By this time, Moos had been chosen by Mayor Ron Bair to look at the city’s outdated charter, was a Democratic precinct committeeperson in her South Hill neighborhood and was on the YWCA’s board of directors.
That same year, however, Moos tried and failed to become chair of the county’s Democratic Party. She was outpolled by Steve Corker, who won the chairmanship and would later become a well-known City Council member, and Mary Christopherson, who became the party’s vice chair.
Her activist tactics weren’t always well-received. In 1980, she ran a legislative campaign for candidate Pat Stiley against incumbent Republican state Rep. Richard Bond. Moos wrote a mailer that stated: “Help liberate South Hill women from Bond-age! Ban the Bond! This is a campaign to defeat Dick Bond … strike for the ERA!”
Bond’s campaign called the mailer “smear tactics.” Stiley said the criticism was “paranoid nonsense,” but downplayed Moos’ mailer, saying it was only sent to “some of her friends.”
Like Disneyland, only prettier
In 1982, Moos formed a group to stop a plan to develop a 6-acre, $9 million amusement center in Riverfront Park into what Mayor Bair described as “like Disneyland, only prettier.” Moos’ group, Save the Original Park or STOP, started as a small collection of citizens but helped define two years in the city’s political life.
“This is a grass-roots movement, the pulse of the city, and this is what people care about. This is the heartbeat of Spokane, and the City Council better listen,” she said.
She was up against powerful interests, including the Spokane Park Board, which voted 9-2 in favor of the plan at one point, and John Hieber, a downtown businessman and booster who brought the idea to light. For two years, bitterly divided public hearings were held, and Moos’ group started a petition drive to change the city charter to block the project.
Sheri Barnard, who would later become mayor but at the time was a candidate for the City Council, said it was “the most polarized issue I’ve ever seen in this community.”
After Moos’ successful petition drive, city officials were forced to go to voters, and a September 1983 showdown was set. Voters were asked to consider a change to the city charter that would require public approval for long-term private developments in Riverfront Park. The charter amendment passed with 56% of the vote, killing the plan.
It was to be Moos’ last big political battle and win. By the mid-1980s, Moos was no longer called a “feminist,” but instead a “Spokane activist” in newspaper accounts, and her biggest campaigns were behind her.
In 1986, she joined other environmentalists to try, unsuccessfully, to stop the construction of the city’s waste-to-energy plant on the West Plains. Later that year, Moos was among 300 local women who ratified the creation of the Greater Spokane Women’s Commission, which was made to sponsor public forums, advise public officials and governmental bodies about programs for women, and launch community education efforts about sexism and racism.
In 1988, she was a member of the Interstate Task Force on Human Relations, and called on Coeur d’Alene business owners to speak against the Aryan Nations – a decade before members of the Aryan Nations chased, assaulted and shot at a mother and son on a dirt road outside their North Idaho compound, which ultimately led to the hate group’s bankruptcy.
This was the year she celebrated her 65th birthday at the Magic Lantern theater, where she showed “Shame,” a film about “a motorcycle-riding woman lawyer who roars into a small town and defends a gang rape victim,” according to a Spokesman-Review article.
In 1992, she ran for the county’s board of freeholders, which would be tasked with rewriting the county’s 113-year-old charter. She lost, coming in fourth place in her race.
Though her name appeared in the news less frequently, she never stopped her activism. She was involved with the Eastern Washington Agency on Aging. In 2008, she was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the Women’s History Consortium, which was in charge of preserving women’s history through the Washington State Historical Society ahead of the statewide commemoration celebrating the fifth amendment to the Washington state Constitution. That amendment passed in 1910 and guaranteed women’s suffrage.
Her papers are archived at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
In 1993, Moos was considered “Spokane’s first feminist” in an article pegged to her 70th birthday.
“This is what 70 looks like. We are all going to age, but you know it’s startling to look at one’s face and see the age. But I’m not fussing and fretting about turning 70. I like it because so far I’m in charge of my life, physically and mentally, and I am in a community that embraces people,” she said.
Her advice to young women then: “Be bold. Be brassy. Mean what you say, then act on it.”
Those words defined her life, even if she knew she would never see the change she sought.
“It IS a man’s world. I know I’ll never see it change in my lifetime,” she said in a 1979 profile. “But it’s sure a heck of a lot better than it was 50 years ago.”