Dotty and her family (Images courtesy David Collett)
A nearly 50-year resident of Capitol Hill and First Hill died last week — CHS was lucky to call her a friend. Dotty DeCoster, who spent her last six years on First Hill after four decades on Capitol Hill, was a writer, researcher, and historian who often worked for little more than her love for some of her favorite subjects — the people, places — and sometimes birds — of Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Central Seattle.
A political radical, DeCoster was involved with “old guard” leftist groups like the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), and experienced the sexism within them. “It is almost impossible to imagine what it was like in the mid-to late 60s if you were a woman. If you went to a radical meeting you weren’t allowed to talk.” Like other women at the time, DeCoster began to see the need for a separate space for women to exchange ideas. Through the Free University, DeCoster encountered discussion around “the woman question”, became part of the anarchist Women’s Majority Union, and worked on the feminist journal Lilith. Quickly, radical women’s groups surfaced which were addressing the problems that mattered to them, driving the changes which would grant women further autonomy.
DeCoster’s family tells CHS she died during the week of complications from colorectal cancer. She would have turned 71 on February 1st. She is survived by daughter Tara, son Tristan and granddaughter Esme.
Despite her move to a First Hill apartment on Spring, DeCoster still identified as “Capitol Hill” and her knowledge of our history stretched back over the decades.
“In the late ’60s, the housing here was in pretty bad shape even on Capitol Hill, not just in the Central Area,” DeCoster said in a 2000 interview. “After the Boeing Crash, housing prices were so cheap that a lot of young couples bought houses here, and still live here because they can’t afford to move, but there were a lot of children here in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s not true now. You see a lot of weekend children.”
Over the years, we were lucky to share some of DeCoster’s work. You learned where the steam at Pike and Harvard comes from. You learned about Broadway’s stairway to nowhere. You learned about the vanished nighthawks of First Hill:
They also have an odd habit while perching. Rather than sitting on tree limbs or wires or rooftops facing you (with the perch on the horizontal) they sit sideways, aligned along the perch. Called “goatsuckers” some places, they used to be a delightful addition to the August falling star show viewed from the Capitol Hill ridge crest.
Thanks for your work and your sharing, Dotty. We learned a lot.