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Dove Kull was a far-sighted, pioneering social worker in Alaska’s early statehood years and a long-time activist for human rights. She created standards and institutions for those most in need, from children to the elderly, in her professional capacity and through civic activism. Her work and interests focused on identifying needs and developing the structures or programs to fill the needs.
Kull started her professional life in Oklahoma as a newspaper society/feature editor, taught English at both the high school and college levels (Oklahoma University and Oklahoma City University) and during the depression was the assistant state supervisor of the Emergency Relief Administration and the Works Progress Administration. As an administrator, she helped develop policies and guidelines for the social services and work referrals to be provided in those programs.
For the next dozen years or so, she administered and supervised state programs for foster care, adoptions, unwed mothers and crippled children in her capacity as assistant state supervisor of Child Welfare Services. Kull then worked for the Oklahoma City and County United Fund developing needed programs to fill in the gaps which existed in the social services offered by the member agencies. Following that job, she was the director of family life and social services for the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City. In a volunteer capacity she chaired a committee of the Council of Churches which worked with various Indian groups to convince them they should participate in the social service programs offered by the state of Oklahoma to all its citizens.
Following this extensive, wide-ranging 37- year career in Oklahoma, Kull moved to Alaska in 1959 and, at the age of 62, began anew a career in social work in a newly-minted state. Her prior Oklahoma experience provided excellent preparation for Alaska’s social services challenges and needs. As an early worker in the field of social work in the state, Kull achieved many “firsts.”
She worked for the Department of Health and Welfare as a social worker, initially becoming the first social worker assigned to be responsible for all welfare services on a district level (Anchorage to Valdez). As state child welfare supervisor, Kull was instrumental in developing the state’s standards for adoption, foster care and other social welfare programs for children, as well as establishing the first accredited child-care center in the state (1961).
At the request of Governor Egan in 1960, she made a trip down the Aleutian chain becoming the first social worker to visit the Pribilof Islands. The purpose of the trip was to assess the social service needs the Aleuts would have as they became full-fledged citizens in a money economy after their many years living under the paternalistic “rule” of the federal government. Coming and going, the ship stopped at villages along the chain to deliver fresh food, mail and supplies. These short visits provided Kull a brief opportunity to observe village life and to meet district representatives, local people appointed by the state to generally oversee the health and welfare of the native population in each village.
Kull left state service and joined the U.S. Public Health Service from 1967-1969 as a clinical social worker at the hospital in Kotzebue, becoming part of a medical team responsible for providing health and mental health services to the surrounding 30 native villages.
She then turned her professional interests to the needs of the elderly. Convinced that elderly people should be allowed to remain in their homes as long as possible, Kull established the first nationally-accredited homemaker/home health-aide service in Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage while employed as the executive director of Alaska Homemaker Services, Inc., from 1969 to the mid 1970s. In later years, when asked about what motivated her work on elderly issues, Kull simply stated: “I do all these things on behalf of older people because, you know, one day I’m going to grow old myself.”
Once retired, Kull became an activist on the local, state and national levels. Appointed to a state senior housing committee in 1976, she lobbied for and was instrumental in securing funding to build the State’s first senior housing in Juneau in 1977. She was appointed to and served on a number of committees and commissions including: the Older Alaskans Commission, Alaska Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Planning Committee of the White House Conference on Aging and State Committee on Services to the Elderly. Kull was an avid supporter of women’s rights and lobbied for support of passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1977 she was selected to be one of Alaska’s delegates to the National Women’s conference in Houston, Texas. In preparation for that conference she compiled a paper focused on the obstacles older women faced in Alaska. That paper launched Kull into a five-year effort to convince Alaska’s Legislature to pass legislation to establish a mechanism whereby the elderly could become involved in administering programs for the elderly as well as receive benefits; as a result the Older Alaskans Commission bill was passed in 1981. She was an organizer and past president of the Juneau Branch, AARP, and an active member of the Juneau branches of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Soroptimists, National Association of Social Workers and other organizations.
Kull was recognized and honored by many for her outstanding contributions to improving the life and welfare of those in need. In 1958 she was listed in the first edition of “Who’s Who in American Women.” She received a Distinguished Service Award from the Pioneer and Capital Jaycees in 1973; named Woman of the Year by the Juneau Soroptimists in 1981 and by the Business and Professional Women (BPW) in 1982. Perhaps her most heartfelt award was the naming of the new AWARE shelter for abused women and children in Juneau as Dove Cottage in 1985, “in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of human rights and equal justice.”
In her 90th year in 1987, Kull received a number of honors. To help celebrate her birthday the mayor of Juneau arranged a community-wide reception and issued a proclamation citing Kull “for breaking new grounds on social service fronts in Alaska.” The University of Alaska Anchorage School of Social Work honored her through the establishment of the Dove Kull Memorial Scholarship and the Alaska Legislature issued a citation commending her for her 30 years of outstanding contributions to children, elderly and villagers. The University of Alaska Southeast awarded her an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree as a “distinguished geriatrist, humanitarian and public servant”. In 1988 she was named “Senior Intern” by Congressman Don Young and AARP presented her with their Andres Award for outstanding contribution to the elderly.
Kull came from pioneering stock. Her mother crossed the Mississippi in a covered wagon at the age of 13 on her way to Kansas and her father raced a horse into Oklahoma to make a land claim on the day the territory was opened. Raised with three brothers on a ranch, Kull walked or rode horseback to school. For a time she and one of her brothers attended a school for Indian children where they had the experience of being in the minority. She believed that her early upbringing in rural Oklahoma led to her dedication to women’s rights, human rights and minority rights. Kull credited her father, a rancher, farmer and newspaper publisher, with instilling in her the belief that those in need were to be treated with dignity, that they had rights which were to be preserved and that they should be provided opportunities to have a better life. It is fair to say that these values underlie the many accomplishments she achieved in both her professional and citizen activist roles. Comments she made on the changes to the Aleut culture reflect these values: “From a social and psychological viewpoint, much has been done to and for the Aleut; but how much has been done with him?” Her father also strongly supported her in her pursuit of higher education leading to her earning a B.A. from the University of Oklahoma, social services and journalism, 1922; M.A. from Columbia University, English (honored for best M.A. thesis), 1927; Masters in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma, 1940.
Kull cared about children in need, women and the elderly, saw what was needed and then courageously acted. She was determined, knowledgeable, detailed and not afraid to advocate and lobby for what she believed was needed. Kull summarized her approach as: “Keep going when you know you are right.” When in her mid-80s and very active on a number of Juneau committees and boards, an admirer noted that Kull was “not rusting out.” She taught women in Juneau how to lobby, be persistent and overcome fears through her personal example and the coaching she offered. Her advice was always “if the door is closed, open it and walk in.”
Photo courtesy of Dove Kull papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage
- Alice Dove Montgomery Kull papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage
- “Dove Montgomery Kull” Obituary, Juneau Empire, December 9, 1991
- “Activist Dove Kull dies at 94”, Ed Schoenfeld, Juneau Empire, December 9, 1991
- “Remembering Dove Kull” editorial, Juneau Empire, December 10, 1991