Pailthorp, Michelle "Mickie" (1940-2002)

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 8/08/2002
  • Essay 7597

Michelle Pailthorp was a major force in Seattle Democratic politics, civil rights, and feminist causes over a span of 30 years, including the campaign for passage of the 1972 state referendum on the Equal Rights Amendment and Patty Murray’s 1992 election to the U.S. Senate.

Mickie Pailthorp was born in Chicago in 1940. She earned her bachelor of arts degree at Reed College in Oregon in 1962 and took a master's in history at the University of Pennsylvania. She met her husband Charles Pailthorp at Reed and they had three children, Aaron, Melissa, and Bellamy.

After a stint in Buffalo, New York, the family moved to the Olympia, Washington, area in 1970 when Charles Pailthorp accepted a teaching position at The Evergreen State College. The couple divorced a few years later, and Michelle relocated to Seattle with her children.

A Passion for Lost Causes and Poodles

While a faculty spouse at Evergreen, Michelle was barred from working for the university, so she joined the Seattle-based campaign for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which succeeded in a 1972 referendum. She later represented the Washington State Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in the state legislature, and was appointed a state delegate to the National Women’s Year convention in 1977. Michelle Pailthorp was one of the first influential Democrats to endorse Patty Murray’s 1992 challenge to incumbent U.S. Senator Brock Adams (1927-2004), who later declined to run for reelection amid a major sex scandal.

Pailthorp was also active in Washington Women Lawyers and the Washington Trial Lawyers association. In her practice, she was known as a tough advocate for her clients and for such “lost causes” as an attempt by the owner of the University District’s Freeway Hall to recover rent from his radical socialist tenants.

Pailthorp and life-partner Joel Connelly shared a home in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood with two large and rambunctious standard poodles. Their annual Christmas parties became “must-attend” events for local public officials, candidates, and political journalists. Pailthorp and Connelly also established a vacation retreat on Whidbey Island, where she landscaped and tended a three-acre garden.

On July 30, 2002, Pailthorp died of a sudden brain aneurysm at her Seattle office.


Joel Connelly, “In The Northwest: The Big Thing About Our Lives Is All the Little Things,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 2002; Shiela Lalwani, “Michele Pailthorp, Champion of Women,” The Seattle Times, August 1, 2002; "Michelle Pailthorp, Activist Lawyer, Dies at Age 61," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 1, 2002; personal correspondence from Aaron Pailthorp, November 12, 2002, correcting erroneous press accounts of birth and death dates and amplifying biographical information.
Note: This biographical essay was revised and corrected on November 19, 2002.

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