Photos courtesy Highline Historical Society
The "Extraordinary Women of Highline" exhibit at the Burien Community Center features 12 accomplished residents of Burien, SeaTac, Normandy Park, and Des Moines. Three more will soon be added. The exhibit runs through Jan. 31. The public is encouraged to then visit the Highline Historical Society facility in SeaTac to view more on these women. Jane Fenton Kelly is believed to be the first Highline school teacher. Dottie Harper was a Burien founder and vigorous education advocate.

"Extraordinary Women of Highline" exhibit features 15 accomplished residents who made history

According to the "Extrarordinary Women of Highline" display now at the Burien Community Center through Jan. 31, "The Highline area has been home to many incredible women since the settlement if the Washington Territory in the 1800's. Dentists and soldiers, politicians and writers, the women who blazed a trail to the West demonstrated a fiery spirit and a love for their new homes that has survived with each passing generation."

It continues to state that these are just a a small number of the many women of history in our area. Fifteen were chosen. Twelve are currently displayed, and the other three will be up shortly. All have passed away, but each has passed on a legacy of note.

Exhibit organizers with the Highline Historical Society include Nancy Salguero McKay, Curator of Collections, Cyndi Upthegrove, Managing Trustee, and intern Colleen Lenahan. Some were pioneers from the 1800's, others lived until just recently and may have been friends of yours.

"At the beginning we had 20 to 30 women on the list," said McKay. "We know it is limited information in the exhibit but we want to add more information about each woman and put it on our website. We have a large collection of materials here at our facility and welcome the public to contact me at any time and to come in and see them."

The current Highline Historical Society facility is located at 19639 28th Ave South, in SeaTac, across the street from the Fairfield Inn by Marriott hotel. You can contact the curator by email at

Everyone awaits the new facility in downtown Burien to break ground in late 2013, coined "A new museum for a new century".

McKay estimates there are about 40 large boxes on the 15 women containing files of information such as research, memorabilia, civic awards. There are several shelves filled with their photo albums, and even an aisle of their clothes, fabrics, and other personal artifacts. She hopes the display at the Burien Community Center will whet your appetite to visit the facility to learn more. And once you are there, you might notice the large, bound volumes of old Highline Times you are welcome to peruse. McKay will then send you on to the SeaTac City Hall to view her historic typewriter exhibit.

Two of the 15 "Extraordinary Women of Highline" are sisters Jane Fenton Kelly (1850-1931) and Ella Fenton Burton (1852-1930's), both pioneer educators here.

"Jane was the first teacher in Highline," said McKay. "She and her husband Mike were pioneers here. Her sister, Ella, was the first teacher in the Highline School District."

The Kellys settled in the South Park area and named it "Sunnydale". They founded the area’s first school in their log cabin kitchen.

The Historical Society website states that, "In 1882, the families then living in Sunnydale banded together and built a one-room schoolhouse beside Miller Creek (...) Remarkably, this 1904 schoolhouse, with its high ceilings, moldings, and wide hallways, survives within the envelope of the existing school" at 15631 Des Moines Way in Burien."

On the more modern end of the timeline is Dorothy Lou (Dottie) Harper, who was involved in art, politics, education, and literature.

Said McKay, "For someone to be able to develop all these different aspects and to develop them so well, that is what impresses me. We will display a quilt in another show she made."

The exhibit states that Dottie Harper (1919-2009) was a founder of the City of Burien and a Founding City Councilwoman. She worked to change the law that allowed just seven community colleges in the state, enabling the establishment of Highline Community College.

Melba Eyler ran a dance studio in a log cabin on Ambaum in the '50's, and wrote a column for the Highline Times/Des Moines News until 2000.

Vivian Matthews was known by many as the "Conscience of Burien" through her environmental activism. McKay and her interns are carefully sifting through six boxes packed with her works and correspondences.

Near those boxes is a small stack of books on Highline history authored by area women. Resting on top is "Always a Rebel and Never Without a Cause" by Burien icon Georgette Valle, who served 24 years in the State House, four years with the Burien City Council, and continues to be an active Burien Lions Club member.

McKay believes Valle is certainly an extraordinary woman of Highline, but pointed out that Valle could not be considered for inclusion in the show.

"Georgette doesn't meet our criteria because she is alive," said McKay, adding with a grin, and pride in her voice, "She is still very active and I know she will accomplish so much more."

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