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The women who fought to keep Pike Place Market… and who are still fighting today

Posted March 27, 2023

After a seven-year battle, the fight to save Pike Place Market came down to an initiative on the ballots on November 2, 1971. The “Let’s Keep the Market” initiative was led by The Friends of the Market, a grassroots group of citizen advocates who collected signatures and protested to save the Market, despite a majority of city and business leaders supporting demolition of the Market with an urban renewal plan. By Election Day, voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative to save the Market by a 59% margin. This initiative preserved the largest continuously operating public market in the nation and protected not only the 9-acre historic district of the Market but a community of farmers, small independent businesses, and senior residents.

This March, during Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing the women who played a vital role in the movement and their work that continues today. Check out this conversation with Kate Krafft, Sara Patton, and Joan Singler, and learn more about their work with the advocacy group Friends of the Market.

How did you all get involved with Friends of the Market?

Joan: My involvement early on was getting petitions signed, my husband was very involved and helped draft the initiative. Eventually I went back to school and raised kids. I got involved in the Market again in the 1980s, when it looked like the New York lawyers were going to take things over.

Sara: My mother was the publicity chair for Friends the Market at the very beginning in 1964. One of my early memories is helping staple ball fringe above the art stall booth because of course, ball fringe was all the rage in those days! So I was active from 1964 to 1967 before I went to Portland for college. My mother was engaged throughout, her name was Mary Lou Patton at the time that she was involved in this. And so I’m very proud of her work there. 

Kate: And I came along later. Prior to being on the board for Friends of the Market, I served as the coordinator for the Historical Commission. And I’ve been involved with other efforts to educate people about the history of the Market.  So I’ve been really focused on education and of course advocacy.

Friends of the Market community event during their “Keep the Market” campaign.

Who were some of the women who played a role in the initial “Keep the Market” efforts?

Kate: Even though Victor Steinbrueck of course, and Jerry Thonn, and Ed Singler did these monumental things, there were a lot of women who played an instrumental role in the movement.

The woman that I always think of in addition to your mother, Sara, is Elizabeth Tanner. I’ve seen the evidence that she was Victor’s right hand and left hand. She just did a tremendous amount of volunteer work, helping the Friends.

Elizabeth Tanner (center, holding the bulldozer sign), the Friends’ initial volunteer executive secretary and manager, gave 30 years of service to the cause.

Sara: I considered her a mentor. Elizabeth showed us the ropes, and she was so willing to answer questions. I remember walking out of the meeting when the Market was declared a historic site. I was 16, maybe 17 at the time, and I said, “okay, now we’re saved!” And Elizabeth carefully explained to me that what it actually meant was that if they tore the Market down, they’d have to put a placard up that said it was a historic site. So we had a lot more work to do. (laughs)

Kate: The other thing about Elizabeth is that Victor really trusted her ability and maneuverability. When he went to live in London in the late 1960s, Elizabeth wrote to him all the time to strategize on how to Keep the Market. During that time, she was doing Victor’s work for him and leading the Friends of the Market. And she also went on to do a lot of volunteer work with the Market Foundation.

The other person I was thinking of was Peggy Golberg, who was an artist, she helped promote a lot of the events that the Friends held to raise money and raise awareness. She was one of the first members alongside Victor. As well as Shirley Collins, who in the midst of all of this started Sur La Table. There are so many extraordinary stories of women who were instrumental in those early advocacy efforts. And that doesn’t even get into the women who were operating businesses in the Market. 

Shirley Collins was a founding officer of Friends of the Market, as well as a founding board member of the Market Foundation and the “mother” of Rachel the Piggy Bank. After the Market was saved, Shirley received the first certificate of occupancy for the new historic district for Sur La Table. (Benjamin Benschneider / The Seattle Times, 1993)

Joan: That’s right, Pasqualina Verdi became the poster woman for the Market, and Nancy Nipples at the Creamery… there were so many strong women who carried that Market through those trials and tribulations, and threats of destruction.

Kate: Another important woman is Alice Shorett. She was an initiative activist and as a Market historian and author she wrote “Soul of the City: The Pike Place Market”.

Sara:  And What about Shelly Yapp? She was a force of nature. 

Kate: Yes, she was the Executive Director of the PDA during the Urban Group crisis, and she was a really tough cookie. She did a great job of dealing with that complex legal issue, she saved the Market a second time. 

Joan: I think those New York City lawyers were taken aback. She didn’t show up in a suit and tie, she showed up in a regular Market outfit and just took them apart piece by piece.

Sara: You can look back and see that there have been many influential women in the Market. I know the Market Foundation has been primarily women, for example the inestimable Lillian Sherman, the current Executive Director.  And the newest director of the PDA, Mary Bacarella, she has been doing a tremendous job.

Why do you think that is, that Pike Place Market in particular has such a rich history of women in leadership?

Kate: I don’t want to be cynical… but women work for less. There is a pay disparity, and it takes so much out of you. You must have a passion and a devotion to a place.

Sara: And I think in the beginning, in the ‘60s and the early ‘70s, for middle class and upper middle-class women, it was a little bit less likely that they were going to be working outside the home. Many women were getting involved in civic affairs and staying involved, even though they weren’t necessarily getting paid for it. But getting your foot in the door and establishing that women are important in the organization early on, helps with the culture over time. 

Kate: Yes, the historic preservation movement as a whole was really driven by women. So for the reason you’re talking about Sara, they had the skills, and intelligence, and time to do it. I think about my own mother, she was from an era when women weren’t working, even if they were educated. My mother was very well-educated, she was a consummate volunteer. She was working all the time, but never for a paycheck.

Women in Market leadership: Sue Gilbert-Moore (right), the Radio Voice of the Market, receives the PDA employee of the year award from PDA Executive Director Shelly Yapp and PDA council member (and later Executive Director) Carol Binder.

At that time, and still today, women were quietly leading advocacy and preservation movements, while at the same time usually running households and raising kids. What was that experience like for each of you?

Kate: You know, I’ve been involved in broader historic preservation issues going back to 1974. And I did have two children after 1981. And sometimes I ask, “Was I even around? How did I do that?” (laughs) Probably because of a very, very supportive spouse and partner. But it’s just a fact, women have that ability to lead and manage and multitask.

Joan: I think I have the same question for my daughters.  “Was I really here?”  It was the civil rights movement, it was the farm workers rights, it was the Market… There was so much happening during that time.

Sara: And women are still fighting today, you can never let your guard down. We’ve got a lot of battles going on right now.

Can you talk about the Friends of the Market’s mission and the work you are doing today?

Kate: The Friends of the Market have always stayed true to the mission of the initiative and the priority that the Market remain a Farmer’s Market. A place to buy food, and provide services and housing for low-income and elderly people. The Friends try to stay focused on not undermining the goals of the initiative or the work of the historical commission. That’s why Sara and Joan have been engaged in various battles.

Joan: We’re working to maintain the character of the Market. Yes, we have an advocacy committee talking about this every other week. The work isn’t over, you need to have a group of really dedicated activists to keep the Market from turning into some kind of boutique shopping mall.

Kate:  It’s ironic because we just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the initiative, which really was an effort to continue to educate the public about this place and why it was saved and how fragile it is. And we’re still facing those threats. We had a lot of accomplishments in the past, but now we need to deal with the present. 

How do you see your work continuing?

Kate: I’d like to get some younger women involved!

Sara: We have a few, which makes me really happy. But that’s important for carrying on the organization. As people connect with their love for the Market and realize that it needs help, I hope they want to step up. 

Kate: And we also instituted the Steinbrueck-Thonn Award, to encourage students to understand the Market, and do scholarly academic work related to its history and functioning today. Hopefully we will bring some folks in that will add to our understanding and appreciation of the Market.

Joan: I see my role as trying to pass on my passion for the Market and show the threats to the Market. I want to try and keep that passion and commitment going.

How can people get involved?

Kate: People can get involved by attending one of our board meetings. And you know, we have a number of issues we’re focusing on now. One of them is this jurisdiction issue that the Department of Neighborhoods is trying to take over. 

[2023 update: After the Friends publicly opposed the council bill, an amendment was added protecting Pike Place Market Historical Commission’s authority. Joan says: The leadership of Heather Pihl, Chair of Friends of the Market Advocacy Committee was key to having the Market removed from this very bad piece of legislation. Heather was the staff person to the Market Historical Commission for many years and a staunch defender of the Market Guidelines along with Christine Vaughan, who served on the Market Historical Commission for over 6 years.]

Sara: And then there’s the issue of cars on Pike Place. There’s a lot of popular support for it from the city and that’s going to be an interesting one. 

Joan: And there’s still the issue of the streetcar that’s hanging there. And we’re not opposed to the streetcar, just against the station being placed where it blocks the merchants from being able to load and unload.

Sara: And zoning that allows 44 story luxury buildings across the street from the Market. 

Kate: Many challenges. So the work continues!

Thank you to the Friends of the Market for demonstrating the impact that grassroots activism can have on shaping public policy. We are grateful to all women in Market history who have used the power of community organizing to protect the cultural heritage of our city and preserve our neighborhood for future generations! 

This interview was conducted in March 2022, and has been edited for length and clarity.


Want more infomation? Visit the Friends of the Market website to read about their work.

Want to stay updated? Sign up for the Friends Newsletter and receive the latest news on FOM and Pike Place Market.

Want to become a Friend of the Market? Enroll and become a member today!


Visit HistoryLink.org to read “Market Wars”, Joyce Skaggs Brewster’s two-part series covering the 13-year battle to protect and preserve the neighborhood.

 Here’s an excerpt featuring more incredible women who were key in the final stages of the fight to keep the Market:

The first step was to get out a mailing to all the signers of the initiative petition. Jean Falls contributed $1,000 and carloads of volunteers from Bush School to this effort; after endless nights of addressing envelopes and piling them up in hallways, as well as a last-minute printing fiasco, the letters went out. Although the mailing didn’t really make money, it brought in “heartwarming” letters of support and a cadre of volunteers.

Harriett Sherburne also worked on putting together an advertising and media campaign, enlisting volunteer services wherever she could. One tricky moment, she recalls, came when Steinbrueck (whose market sketches and posters were not universally admired in the Alliance) wanted to do the art work for the ads. The ad agency searched through the Sketchbook and managed to find a single little shopping-bag lady, seen from the rear, whose magnified image satisfied everybody and became an effective emblem for the campaign. Another potential crisis arose late in October, when Sherburne desperately needed funds for a last TV blitz and the only resources available (aside from Jack Bagdade’s mortgage payment, which, he contributed) were 30 lithographs that Mark Tobey had sent to the Friends. Only one of the prints sold at a Highlands party held for that purpose, but the Friends were persuaded to use the rest as collateral for a bank loan, and Sherburne got her TV ads.

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