The granddaughter of one of Spokane’s early African-American pioneers, Eleanor Barrow Chase became a pioneer in her own right, and her legacy remains evident throughout Spokane today.
Eleanor studied vocal music at Whitworth; when she graduated in 1941, she was known for her keen intellect and her operatic soprano voice. In 1942 she married James Chase, and the two formed a team whose influence still resounds throughout the region. During the next several decades, Eleanor would become known as a champion for civil rights, and as a voice for the voiceless, through her work as a probation officer and caseworker for Spokane County Courts and as a social worker with state agencies.
She and James were active and influential supporters of a number of local organizations, including the NAACP. In 1981, in a landslide vote, James was elected Spokane’s first African-American mayor. Eleanor served alongside him as a campaigner and trusted partner. In response to his mayoral win, she said, “It means Spokane is an unusual city. It is bigger than all of us. We have been used as tools, and my faith has really been strengthened. I can see God’s hand working” (The Spokesman-Review).
Eleanor went on to serve on the boards of trustees at Whitworth and at Eastern Washington University, where she received an honorary master’s degree in social work. She died in 2002. Today, Eleanor’s and James’ Spokane legacies are commemorated in the naming of Chase Middle School, the Chase Art Gallery, and the Chase Youth Commission, as well as in the Eleanor Chase House, a women’s facility with the Washington State Department of Corrections.