Horizon House Blog

Resident Focus: Alene Moris

Alene Halvorson Moris was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1928.  Her mother came from a family of Icelandic immigrants, and her father’s family hailed from Norway. Each of her parents moved to Canada independently as homesteaders.  When Alene finished high school, she did her national service in a small Ukrainian settlement with a one-room schoolhouse where she taught 18 students in 10 grades. She subsequently attended St. Olaf College and graduated in 1949 with a B.A. in Music. It was there she met and married a Lutheran pastor, Walt Moris. They were assigned to parishes in Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana, during which time they raised four children: Karin, Kristina, Erik, and Karl. The entire family then moved to British North Borneo, serving there from 1965 to 1969. Alene became head of the Senior School, preparing 200 young Chinese men for the Cambridge University Overseas Examinations.


During these same years, the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam escalated. Not a single American woman seemed to be involved in the decisions that in Alene’s opinion created a debacle. A deeply spiritual experience led her to believe that women had to become leaders along with men or the world would always have wars.


When the family returned to the States, Alene got her Master’s degree in counseling at Northern Illinois University. She almost didn’t graduate because she objected to the way women were seen in the Freudian psychology department, but one of her professors championed her, and at 41 she received her degree in spite of opposition to her ideas.


Walt accepted a call to a Lutheran church in North Seattle, and Alene took a job as the Assistant Dean for Women at the University of Washington. She and Dean Strawn started the Women’s Center in 1971; following Strawn’s retirement, Alene became the Director.  Her curriculum to help women make important life decisions and take leadership positions was very popular with students, but not always compatible with the views of her colleagues so Alene left the UW and started the Individual Development Center on Capitol Hill. This career counseling center for men and women was successful from the beginning. Major local employer Boeing had just laid off 80,000 (mostly) men, and both the men and their wives needed help in finding jobs.


In the next ten years, Alene also became a consultant to various national women’s groups like the Junior League, the National Association of Bank Women, and 22 different Orders of Catholic Sisters. Each participant in her seminars was enabled to offer training to at least ten more groups. In this way, over 2,000 women led seminars around the country urging women to become leaders in their communities.


Also during these years, Alene started doing seminars for top executives in companies that were required to provide affirmative action awareness training required by the government. Her work included affirmative action investigations, particularly in the southern states, where some companies were meeting their “quotas” of minorities and women but giving them no training or support. These assignments were often dangerous. She would come into a small company town in Mississippi, or Alabama, or Texas to investigate a harassment charge and would be met by a conspiracy of silence or extreme retaliation, like slashing her tires, soaping the windows of her rental car, and calling her in the middle of the night screaming obscenities. Though these cases were very difficult, Alene managed to obtain decent financial settlements for many women and get the worst offenders fired.


After leaving the International Development Center in 1986, she spoke at national and international conferences and became a columnist for a women’s banking journal. Her emphasis remained the same: women are badly needed in leadership positions in order to make balanced decisions at every level of society. Wherever she spoke, she encouraged women to trust themselves and other women to be leaders.


In 1995 a local group, including Alene and longtime Horizon House resident Phyllis Lamphere, created a very successful International Conference for Women held in Seattle. Over 1,500 women from the U.S. and around the world attended. That year Alene and Phyllis were also delegates to the Women’s Conference of the United Nations meeting in Vienna. Given this history, it was a great joy for Alene to find Phyllis at Horizon House when she moved here in 2010, and to discover that her assigned “mentor” was old friend Betty Jones.


Alene still does some counseling and speaking at the UW Women’s Center and other places around Seattle. As part of her 11-year special friendship with Floyd Jones, she has been involved in many philanthropic causes. Thanks to Floyd’s generosity, the UW Women’s Center has a strong program for Young Women Leaders in politics and the community.


As a friend of Hillary Clinton’s since 1992, when Alene did a seminar for governor’s wives (Bill Clinton was then Governor of Arkansas), Alene has been deeply saddened by her electoral loss. This past fall, when Hillary spoke at the Paramount Theater, Alene, and Floyd, and a group of ten others met with her for almost an hour. Alene felt that Hillary would have been a wonderful president; she’s also profoundly worried about our country’s future. Shortly after the election, Alene received a thoughtful note from our community recognizing her work for women locally, nationally, and around the world. It stated, “…The work you have done on behalf of women and men has helped transform our culture into one where women’s talents can be fully valued and appreciated…we are hopeful that the seeds of your work will continue to flourish and that someday we will have a woman President of the United States…you are truly a wonderful gift to our community and an inspiration to us all…”

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