Writer Dotty DeCoster remembered

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.

She was an activist:

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.

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8 thoughts on “Writer Dotty DeCoster remembered

  1. It is a WONDERFUL article. One correction: I, Esmé am Dotty’s granddaughter. Dotty had two children Tara(daughter) and Tristan (son).


  2. I feel so grateful for having had the opportunity to garden side-by-side with Dotty in the Unpaving Paradise P-Patch @ John & Summit for a few years. She was a compassionate neighbor and great community supporter. She will definitely be missed. Love to your family, Esme!

  3. We are very sorry to hear this news about Dotty, but glad to read such a tribute to her work and life. We still miss having Tara, Dotty, and Esme as neighbors and my family and I think of them all often and the warmth and community that Dotty created. Thinking of you all! Jordanna

  4. I feel lucky to have worked with Dotty in the Unpaving Paradise garden community. She was a force of positivity and unflagging energy that will be greatly missed.

  5. I so enjoyed meeting Dotty through gardening at the Unpaving Paradise P-Patch. Her neighborliness, wit and expert contributions to garden leadership made my day many times over. I will certainly miss her in the garden.

  6. Dotty was a huge part of my childhood, she and my mother were friends and I was blessed to have had her in my life. I spent many years with her children Tara and Tristan acting as siblings. She will certainly be missed, and if I could have done parts of my life over, it would have been to not lost contact with her.

  7. I appreciated having Dotty as a neighbor when I first moved to Seattle. For me she was the face of the apartment building and a portal into its history and that of the surrounding neighborhood. Thank you for this tribute to her.