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Mercer Island Historical Society

Founded 1954

Keeping History Alive on Mercer Island

A Washington State Non-profit Charitable organization with 501(c)(3) status.

In Honor of Women's History Month:
Recognizing Mercer Island Women
Who Made an Impact

When Lynn Oliver signed on as Mercer Island Fire Division Chief in 1983, she was rare enough as a female in a male-dominated profession, but she was also the first woman fire chief in the entire country. She oversaw a department with 21 full-time and 16 auxiliary fire fighters and administered the myriad of details involved in running a department.

As the first woman fire chief she felt the burden of being the first, of wanting to prove herself and and to be an example for women's abilities in the industry.

With a degree in education she started as an elementary school teacher. She moved to Seattle and although she planned to teach she took a job working on the City of Seattle's fire prevention staff and found she had a passion for fire safety education. When she became the deputy fire marshal for King County, she realized fire safety had become her career.

Oliver was Mercer Island's Fire Chief from 1983-1992, when she left to take a similar position in Kirkland.

Mercer Island's only female firefighter was Pauline Reed McKay who started as a volunteer in 1974, and later became an auxiliary firefighter.

Caroline Fraser was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for biography for "Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder." Her book also received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the 2018 Heartland Prize for non-fiction and was named one of the 10 best books of 2018 by The New York Times.

The Pulitzer prize is considered the country's top literary award. Her book describes how Wilder transformed her family's story of poverty, failure and struggle into a tale of self-reliance, perseverance and a close family relationship.

Fraser was formerly on the editorial staff of ...continued

How There Came to Be Boys in the Boat

On December 15, 1899, students at the University of Washington accepted an offer from developer and rowing aficionado E. F. Blaine to help establish a rowing club on campus. Within a year enough money was raised and support garnered to build two four-oared rowing gigs (light narrow boats built for speed), a boathouse and a dock and float for the boats. Crew racing gained official (if unfunded) university recognition in 1903.

A few years later, UW hired Hiram B. Conibear as its first salaried rowing coach, assisted by Cornell University oarsman Mark Odell. In 1912 Conibear recruited English boatbuilding brothers Dick and George Pocock to make a racing shell for his varsity crew. The Pococks later went to work for Boeing, building pontoons for seaplanes, but continued to build racing shells, for both the UW and for other rowing programs.

After World War I, the rowing crews began using a converted seaplane hangar as their shell house, which soon also housed George Pocock's workshop. Dick Pocock left Seattle in 1922 to build shells for Yale, but George -- after quitting his job at Boeing later that same year -- remained at UW and devoted the rest of his life to building racing shells, later joined by his son, Stan Pocock. In 1923, a Pocock shell propelled UW's varsity crew towards their first national championship when they defeated Navy in the 1923 Poughkeepsie Regatta.

In 1936 Husky oarsmen made history winning gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games. Their story is told in Daniel James Brown's award-winning book, The Boys in the Boat and the film adaptation of the book opens on Christmas Day.

MOHAI has a new exhibit, “Pulling Together: A Brief History of Rowing in Seattle.” The exhibit runs from November 24 - June 2, 2024

Article and information courtesy of HistoryLink.

"History at your fingertips!"

Thanks to community donations, we have digitized 26 years' worth of the Mercer Island Reporter, accessible for free on-line -- at The years currently digitized--and key-word searchable--are: 1968-1985, 1994, 1995, 1997-2000, 2004, and 2005.

A special thank you to the donors who've contributed to our digitization project thus far: Cyclemates Bike, the Kiwanis Club of Mercer Island, the Mercer Island Rotary Club and the Mercer Island Community Fund. We welcome individuals' donations on our "Donate" page.