Collins Memorial Library

Biography

Abby Williams Hill (1861–1943) was a painter, activist, and prolific writer. She produced a remarkable collection of landscape paintings showcasing the grandeur of the American West, as well as a vast archive of letters and journals addressing issues of continuing social and historical interest. 

Abby Rhoda Williams was born in 1861, in Grinnell, Iowa, a town founded on progressive but strict Christian values. As a young woman, she studied in Chicago, and with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York. In 1888 she married Frank Hill, a homeopathic doctor. The couple moved to Tacoma the following year, the same year Washington achieved statehood. Soon after Hill gave birth to a son, Romayne. Later the Hills would adopt three daughters. 

In 1894 Hill began spending weekends and summers on nearby Vashon Island.  The time she spent on the island whetted her appetite for the wilderness, and the following year she joined expeditions to Mt. Rainier and Hood Canal. These trips were transformative; they kindled a lifelong passion for hiking, camping, and working en plein air, and led to a brief but successful career as a professional landscape painter for the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads. 

In addition to her work as a painter, Hill was active in the Congress of Mothers, today’s National Parent Teacher Association. She was a founder and the first president of the Washington state chapter and advocated for services for recent immigrant and other disadvantaged families. 

Later in her life, Hill became concerned with the threat that commercial and tourist interests posed to the natural environment. She noted that several of the landscapes that she had painted earlier in her career no longer existed in the state in which she had observed them. In response she embarked on a series of paintings of the western National Parks, which she considered her legacy to future generations.