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Dr. Samuel Goldenberg (1921-2011), a Seattle psychologist, organized the Citizens' Abortion Study Group after being unable to help two of his patients obtain legal abortions in 1967. The group, later renamed Washington Citizens for Abortion Reform, was the prime sponsor of Referendum 20, which liberalized the state's abortion law after it was approved by the voters in 1970. Fifteen other states had legalized abortion by then, but Washington was the first -- and so far the only -- state to do so by popular vote. In this interview, conducted for Historylink by Cassandra Tate on September 2, 2000, Goldenberg discusses the origins of the campaign that led to abortion reform in Washington.

The Interview

"The problem of abortion was one that was being aired with increasing frequency in those days [the late 1960s]. In my practice as a clinical psychologist I came into contact with people -- men and women -- who were involved because the women or the women the men knew were pregnant and didn't want to be pregnant and felt it was going to be a disastrous state of affairs if they had no alternative but to carry through with the pregnancy.

"I began to hear more and more about this. And then I had two cases in my office, back to back, that brought it even closer to my attention. One involved a woman in her early 40s; she already had a couple of kids and was having great difficulty taking care of them and keeping herself together psychologically. When she began to seek termination of her pregnancy, that made sense to me. She received short shrift at the hands of the hospital committee responsible for evaluating abortion applications and it appeared her only legal alternative was to go ahead with the pregnancy.

"Then a young college girl came to my office shortly after that. She was having a lot of emotional difficulty. Included in her unfortunate situation was an unwanted pregnancy. This was a girl who had had little sexual experience, as I recall, but became pregnant. She also was in a family situation where she was unable to get much support. There was a lot of condemnation but no help. I talked with some members of the family with her present and l felt I got a fairly straightforward picture of the family constellation and the lack of help she was going to get there. I referred her to an obstetrician/gynecologist for evaluation and he referred her to a hospital committee and she was rejected.

"Partly on the basis of these two experiences I began to be more concerned with this issue. I talked with some friends of mine, colleagues. I was sharing office space with a psychiatrist named Glenn Strand and I told him I thought we needed to do something to get organized and bring in some new ideas.

Beginnings of Reform

"I asked Glenn if he knew any obstetricians and gynecologists and others who had had experience with these matters. He referred me to Don McIntyre, an obstetrician and gynecologist who was working with Planned Parenthood at that time. I talked to Don and his wife, to see if they were interested in getting together with a group of people to talk about this issue. We asked who else we needed to be involved and that led very quickly to Palmer Smith. He was an attorney who had drafted a number of social welfare bills for the legislature.

"Palmer joined us, as did Lee Minto of Planned Parenthood. We decided we'd like to have a representative of Catholicism involved, and we ended up with two priests. We continued to fill out the group by inviting representatives of other groups having a particular interest in the subject -- child development researchers, family welfare specialists, clergy, others -- to discuss if there was a need for reform and what kind of reform might be needed.

"We began to meet, initially once a month and then more frequently. We met for maybe a year and discussed this issue. We brought in people from various disciplines -- lawyers, professors, researchers, parents, police -- whoever seemed to have an interest. With the guidance of Palmer Smith, we made a rather thorough study of whose interests are involved in the decision to have an abortion or not -- the interests of the woman, of the husband, of the child, of society, among others.

"My recollection is that we didn't have a direct connection with women's rights groups, but there was an indirect connection. The impact of the women's rights movement was to widen the context in which abortion reform was contemplated. It helped people to be aware of other attitudes and values and predispositions they might hold which bore on their response in questions of choice regarding pregnancy.

Not a Simple Question

"As we became aware of the various levels of interaction, the breadth of the significance of the decision about abortion became more and more apparent. It was not a simple question; it had so many aspects to it. It was not a matter only of women's rights or freedom to choose.

"We began our campaign by having these kinds of thoughts and sharing them. After a year we decided we no longer wanted to be a study group but an action group. We had reached a consensus that the law needed to be changed.

"Joel Pritchard [then a state senator] had joined our group early on and he became the chief legislative sponsor for this legislation, which eventually was turned into the referendum. During the regular session of the legislature in 1969, Joel introduced a bill in the Senate; it was bottled up in the rules committee of the Senate, I think chiefly because of pressure from the Catholic Church. That bill didn't ever get out of the rules committee.

"Then in 1970, there was a special session of the legislature which was supposed to deal only with financial matters. The understanding was that only financial matters would be considered, but if some other legislation was introduced, in violation of this gentlemen's agreement, then the door was open for other bills. It so happened that other legislation did get introduced, so Joel brought in an abortion bill. The legislature was unwilling to deal with the bill in a straightforward way, so they turned it into a referendum. My recollection is that the idea of a referendum first came from within the legislature, but I don't have any documents to support that. We decided to go along with the referendum idea, after considering blocking it.

"By the time the referendum went to the voters, we already had a very broad base of support. Because of the diversity of the study group, we had connections to many different groups in the community. That's what was so impressive to me, how these citizens came together, from just about every religious group and every political group we could think of. There were even some Catholics and one or two Catholic priests who quietly supported us, although not openly from the rooftops. While King County gave us much support, there was a gradual organization of pro-choice groups around the state.

A Wonderful Exercise in Citizenship

"Whatever fund of knowledge and values we could come into contact with, we tried to enlist them in the group, if not as a regular member at least as a resource person. There were times when there were sharp disagreements but I don't think there was a time when the group failed to support open discussion. It was a wonderful exercise in citizenship.

"A number of Republicans were involved. Those were the days of Joel Pritchard, Dan Evans [then governor], that liberal Republican group that Slade Gorton [then attorney general, now U.S. senator] has since fallen out of. The presence of liberal Republicans was very important. I think we miss them now.

Dr. Frans Koome

"What kind of impact did Dr. Koome have? [A. Frans Koome, a Renton physician, caused an uproar in late 1969 by writing a letter to Evans, and releasing copies to the press, in which he confessed that he had been performing illegal abortions for three years.] Frans was a remarkable man. I don't remember enough about him; I'd like to remember a lot more. I recall that initially I was taken aback by Frans and thought, my gosh, this guy is really off the wall. But I didn't think in those terms very long. His commitment to helping people and his commitment to social justice and to helping individuals make decisions in the light of their own circumstances -- his commitment to those issues was tremendous. He was very good about sharing his time and energy and information.

"I think Frans' courage and forthrightness and daring was inspiring in lots of ways, yet it also was a bit unsettling to people who liked to proceed in a cool, analytical, let's-think-this-through manner. But I think Frans, as far as I can recall, remained in touch with rational and intelligent concerns. He was not just an activist who set out to impose his own set of principles on the world. I think he wanted to both understand the problem and act on it; he did not just want people to talk it away. He was a very hard worker and a very courageous man.

"I don't know what happened to my two patients. I don't remember the details of how my work with those two people ended. I think the older woman had some unexpected support that was helpful to her. I think she bore the child; what happened to that child and what happened to her oldest child, who was having behavioral problems, I just don't know.

A Wonderful Group

"It was a wonderful group, the study group and the action group, with great people. They had a generosity of heart and effort. They were really concerned with social good and the good of individuals. I was so fortunate to have made the suggestion that led to the formation of the group, and I served as chairman all the way through. It was an exhilarating experience to be part of that."

By Elisabeth Keating, Guest Blogger

On a scorching Sunday morning in August, the Climate Challenge students headed a few miles north from our riverside campground on Highway 20. Our destination: Diablo Powerhouse is a key link in the massive Skagit hydroelectricity project which provides 30-40 % of Seattle’s power supply. Our classroom for the day, the Diablo Powerhouse, has a rich and storied place in the history of Seattle. It opened in the 1930s, was built before Hoover Dam and before Grand Coulee Dam, and had the biggest hydro generators in the world when they were installed.

The three Seattle City Light dams on the Upper Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains today produce about 40 percent of the electrical power consumed in Seattle. The dams are located along a 7 to 8 mile section of Skagit River. Starting downriver and proceeding eastward toward Canada they are in order Gorge, Diablo, Ross.

Today’s goal: To learn about hydro energy–a major renewable energy resource of the Pacific Northwest.

“The Cascades Climate Challenge program isn’t just about climate science and the effects of climate change on the Pacific Northwest,” lead Climate Challenge instructor Aneka explains. “It’s also about finding solutions, and alternative energy is a concept we like to explore in depth. Another primary focus of the program is leading the students to think for themselves. Through the exploration of the Diablo Powerhouse, we’re encouraging the students to think critically about the effects of climate change and solutions as they related to sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest. Making the connection between glacial retreat and healthy salmon populations can be simple but adding the human component of energy dependence and alternatives to coal power deepen the conversation.”

Planning for hydroelectric dams began as early as 1902 and construction, but not controversy, finally concluded in 1961. The project had to overcome competition, politics, international diplomacy, the weather, and the mountains themselves. The Diablo Dam was built by Seattle City Light at a location 7-1/2 miles upstream from Newhalem and completed August 27, 1930. Due to the Great Depression, the Diablo Powerhouse was not completed until 1935, with the first power being generated in 1936.

From its inception in the 1920s, the massive Skagit River power project was a tourist destination for fascinated Seattleites. This 1929 Seattle City Light flyer describes tours of the Skagit Hydro-electric project. The last 20 miles of the road to the rail head at Rockport was gravel. Courtesy Seattle Public Library.
Students standing in front of the powerhouse north door (the main entrance door), with a transformer in the background.

Our guide for the day, Seattle City Light Hydro Operator Karen Lebens, met us at the door of the Powerhouse, and welcomed us inside. The main entrance foyer is virtually unchanged in 70 years!

The powerhouse seal in the main entrance foyer. Diablo Powerhouse was originally built with visitors in mind, thus the mosaics, seal, and a fishpond in the entrance. The generators were built up a floor higher than usual so visitors could more easily see into the turbine pits. However this design feature turned out to be one that made the powerhouse very noisy, so it wasn’t quite the visitor showplace envisioned by J D Ross.

It must be remembered, however, that this was very early in the development of electrical generation.

As we gathered in the control room, Karen issued earplugs and badges, and gave us a brief introduction to the complexities of hydroelectricity. The turbine of a hydropower plant uses the electricity of moving water to make electricity. The main part of a turbine is called a runner wheel with curved metal blades. Falling water hits the blades, forcing a shaft to turn. The shaft turns a magnetized wheel (rotor) inside a stationary iron ring (stator), which is embedded with coils of copper wire. Electricity is created as the magnets spin past the copper wire activating electrons. The rotor and stator are the main components of an electrical generator.

This article provides a visual diagram of how a hydroelectric dam works.

We began our tour in the control room. Here, our guide, Karen Lebens of Seattle City Light, is showing us the computer screen that gives us current information about the different plants in the Skagit River hydroelectric project, the lake levels for Ross Lake and Diablo Lake, and the weather.
 The students are inside the turbine pit of a main unit generator, looking at the turbine shaft that connects the turbine down below (being spun up by water from behind the dam) to the rotor up above (a large spinning electromagnet that is causing electricity to be generated in the stator). The water from the dam is admitted into the turbine wheel through a number of gates around its perimeter. The gates are all connected to a big shifter ring so they all open and close at the same time.
One of the students kneels on the shifter ring looking into a porthole in the bearing oil pot. There are big bearings for the turbine, the upper and lower guide bearings that keep the turbine shaft aligned, and the thrust bearing that carries the weight of the rotor as it spins. Karen explains, All of them run and oil and we can monitor oil conditions. If water got into this bearing we would see foam in the porthole and know what the problem was.
Students examine a main unit governor accumulator tank. The output of the generator is controlled by opening or closing the gates to let more or less water into the turbine. The shifter ring controls the gates by moving them using big hydraulic cylinders. The governor controls the oil to the hydraulic cylinders.
Karen shows students around the second floor relay room. Diablo is the transmission hub for the Skagit Project. Power goes onto the switchyard ring bus from all three plants and then is sent down three transmission lines all the way to Seattle. All these lines and the Diablo Powerhouse main units are protected by relays that de-energize lines or equipment if there is a fault or lightning strike or something like that.
Close-up of a relay. The relaying will cause breakers to open if something happens, isolating lines or equipment. Many of the buttons and switches in the Powerhouse are the original ones installed in the 1930s. Karen says they actually are lot more durable than parts made today.
Students prepare to climb a ladder to get a view from the on top of the stator for a main unit generator. From here, we’ll be able to get a close-up look at the huge electromagnet. The power produced by the generator is flowing on insulated copper bus bars under the floor to the right, out to the transformers that step it up to transmission voltage. Karen cautions us not to touch anything. You can look all you want, but keep your hands and fingers out of there!
Here, students are standing the top of a main unit generator, with the powerhouse crane up above in the back. (All powerhouses need a big crane to lift the rotor into and out of the stator housing. This is the heaviest thing to lift in the powerhouse, as rotors usually run 150-300 tons, and the cranes are sized to make this lift. A powerhouse crane usually runs on rails on either side of the main generator hall walls.
The top of the main unit generator again, with crane above in background. Avery waves at the other half of the class, on top of the second generator where this picture was taken.

After the tour, Karen answers questions and explains in more detail how hydropower factors into Seattle’s overall energy usage. Some interesting facts the students learned:

  • Seattle and Los Angeles are the only two cities in the United States that handle both the transmission and the distribution of energy. So they are the only cities that will not go down altogether in a power outage.
  • Normally, hydropower generates 30-40% of Seattle’s power. But in an emergency, the hydropower dams on the Skagit could provide up to 95% of Seattle’s power, but they could only do it for a month.
  • Most hydropower dams in the U.S. are in remote locations.
  • Both very high and very low levels of water kill salmon. Seattle City Light uses the controls at the Gorge Dam, the lowest dam on the river to protect salmon habitat.
  • Hydro dams come in a number of different types. Two general types are run of river and reservoir. Run of river dams move water through the generators without any (or very little) stored above the generators. Reservoir dams allow for the storage of water, and therefore power to be used as it is needed most. Reservoir dams give operators more options.

 

After the tour I was curious to learn more about what effects the warming planet will have on the dams of the Skagit, and on energy costs for the residents of Seattle.

Seattle City Light Scott Thomsen, Sr. Strategic Advisor, Communications & Public Affairs, responded, “We consider climate change a serious threat to hydroelectric energy production. We count on snowpack to act like a battery for our dams because their reservoirs are not big enough to hold all the water needed to produce electricity throughout the year. Snowpack holds some of that water up on the mountaintops until the summer melt brings it down. If climate change causes more of our precipitation to come in the form of rain and causes the remaining snow to melt sooner, it would limit our ability to produce electricity from this clean, renewable resource. Less production from our existing dams would require us to seek other resources to meet customer needs, which would drive up costs.”

Sources of Seattle City Light’s power supply: http://www.cityofseattle.net/light/AboutUs/CustomerGuide/docs/fingertipfacts_2009.pdf

As for salmon, the Skagit is home to every type of salmon plus steelhead and bull trout. Chinook and bull trout are threatened species, which gives them special protections. City Light is committed to operating its dams in an environmentally sensitive manner. Part of that commitment is to maintain minimum river flows at critical periods of the spawning cycle to protect eggs and young fry.

Learn More about the Skagit Hydroelectric Project

These videos and articles provide more insight into the past and future of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

Videos:

History in Motion: More Power To You

For a fascinating glimpse into the Diablo Powerhouse 70 years before our visit, check out this historical 24-minute video. The City of Seattle Department of Lighting made this lush color film in the late 1940s to commemorate the expansion of the Skagit River hydroelectric project. See dignitaries examining the dam, and go for a hike into the glacier-studded wilderness of the Upper Skagit River to measure the snow pack.

Essays:

History of the Upper Skagit River Hydroelectric Project

City Light’s Birth and Seattle’s Early Power Struggles, 1886-1950

Hydroelectric power from Skagit River reaches Seattle on September 14, 1924

KOL Radio broadcasts The Romance of Power live from the Skagit River on August 19, 1939

Bill Newby and Seattle City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project, 1935-1996

Mementos of a Seattle City Light Skagit River tour

For more Skagit history on the web, visit the Seattle Municipal Archives site or see www.historylink.org.

University of Washington Climate Impacts Group: Climate Impacts on Washington’s Hydropower, Water Supply, Forests, Fish, and Agriculture

 

All photos by Elisabeth Keating (except where noted).

Special thanks to Karen Lebens and Scott Thomsen of Seattle City Light for their help with this blog post.

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