When Frances Scott accepted her Distinguished Alumna Award from Whitworth, in fall 2005, she shared hard-won insights from her eight decades of life. Some were whimsical: “ People who live in glass house are apt to be fascinating,” and “No matter what the problem is, chocolate is the answer.” And some were wise: “We are all in this together, and that’s what makes it bearable.”
The great-granddaughter of freed slaves, Scott came by her wit and wisdom honestly, and, in some cases, painfully. She was born and raised in Spokane by a single mother, a trained nurse who could find work only as a cook or a maid. Frances thrived in school, demonstrating academic and leadership abilities.
But she also endured the sting of racism. When she and some white high school friends visited a downtown hotel to interview a famous opera singer, Scott was asked to ride in the freight elevator. She later was named salutatorian of her high school class but was denied the traditional honor of speaking at graduation.
Scott attended Spokane’s Holy Names College, but she had to leave after marrying during her final semester. She was welcomed at Whitworth by Dean of Women Marion Jenkins; Scott completed a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1944 and a master’s in sociology in 1947. She returned to Whitworth to earn a teaching certificate in 1962. “Whitworth gave this black woman an opportunity when it was far from commonplace. They gave it, I took it, and I’m glad I did,” Scott said.
After receiving her Whitworth degrees, Scott taught English, German, sociology and African-American history at Spokane’s Rogers High School for 31 years. In 1974, she also completed a law degree at Gonzaga University, becoming the first African-American woman to practice law in Spokane. Scott said she was motivated to get her law degree so that she could provide legal advice to the many social-service organizations she was involved with, and also to represent women and minorities in a legal system that too often seemed stacked against them. She continued to teach and practice law until her retirement, in 1989.
In 1977, Scott was a delegate to the National Women’s Conference, in Houston, Texas. In 1979 she attended the White House Conference on Libraries; during that same year she was appointed to the Civil Service Commission, becoming the first African American and first woman commissioner in history.
In the early 1980s, Scott served two terms as president of the Spokane Education Association. In 1985, she was appointed by Gov. Booth Gardner to a seven-year term on the Washington State University Board of Regents, during which she served one year as president of the board.
After her husband, Vernon, died, in 1988, Scott moved to Port Orchard, Wash., to open a bed-and-breakfast with another retired Spokane teacher, and to be closer to her children and grandchildren. Scott died in 2010, at age 88.
Ten years before her death, Scott returned to Spokane to speak at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration and unity march. Her remarks that day reflect the goals she pursued throughout her life, and the wisdom, grace and truth that she embodied. “We have made progress, but we have not reached the end of the journey,” she said. “Dr. King’s dream is not a reality yet. But as long as we are moving in the direction of the dream, we will succeed. I will not let the dream die.”