A native Seattleite born in 1916, Bernice Stern was the youngest National Council of Jewish Women officer elected at the national level, and first woman elected to the King County Council. She attended the University of Washington from 1932–1935, leaving to marry Edward Stern. Mother to two young boys, Bernice began volunteering at home, working on behalf of the blind, and on John F. Kennedy’s Women’s Conference on Civil Rights in 1961, and served on the Washington State Women’s Civil Rights Committee in 1963. She was named Outstanding Public Official in 1979 by the Municipal League of King County. Bernice Stern died on June 29, 2007.
“During World War II, there were a lot of black servicemen who were at the U.S. Naval Hospital where we worked every week. And they’d play music and there were no black girls with whom they would dance. So I would dance with the boys that didn’t have anybody to dance with and so would some of the other women who were with me. And so at the next meeting of the Gray Ladies the head stood up and said, ‘We do not wish you to dance with the fellows, with the servicemen.’ I stood up. I said, ‘Are you going to have young black girls to dance with the servicemen? No! Well, then we will continue to dance with them. I object strenuously to your using these boys to fight our battle with us and for us but not have girls for them to dance with.’ And the head of the Gray Ladies said, ‘We are not going to permit that.’ I said, ‘Well, then I am resigning as a Gray Lady.’ A few others did but not many. I have taken stands on organizations like that.”
“In the late 1960s, the Democratic Party asked me to run for District Committee member. And I said, ‘That is ridiculous. I'll never get elected.’ But David Stern—my son, the advertising man who does all my stuff—got very excited. He made me a poster that was too big to put in a wastebasket. He wanted me to go around in the District, on the rainiest, most miserable night I could find and leave this thing, and they would try to put it in the wastebasket and they couldn’t get it in. He said, they’d remember you and they'll remember that you wanted to be District Committee member. I won easily because I did what David said. They remembered me. They couldn’t get it in the wastebasket. I still have those posters.”
“Some ladies came to see me at my office. They were very upset, because they couldn’t get home to feed their children dinner at night because the bus service was so terrible, and could I do anything about it? I said, ‘No, but you can do something about it. Come and tell the men [on the Council] about how you can’t get home to cook dinner for your families. That we need a separate road for people who are in a hurry and who have more than one in the car.’ And that’s how the HOV lanes came into being. I didn’t have to say anything at all.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.