Thea Foss In 1889, the year Washington achieved statehood, Norwegian immigrant Thea Christiansen Foss arrived in Tacoma on the newly opened Northern Pacific Railroad.

With transportation limited to train, horse–drawn buggies and boats, Thea quickly recognized a business opportunity in the growing demand for water travel. Beginning with an initial $5 purchase of a rowboat, the marine transport business she and her husband Andrew founded on the Tacoma waterfront has grown over more than a century into the largest, most modern fleet of tugs on the West Coast.

Through her life and work, Thea Foss became a pioneer archetype for women in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1931, Thea became the inspiration for a fictional character in Norman Reilly Raine's famed "Tugboat Annie" stories published in the Saturday Evening Post. These popular tales led to three Hollywood motion pictures and a 1950's television series.

Finding Thea separates the woman from the myth. It combines rare archival footage, photos, and clips from the 1933 Tugboat Annie film starring Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery with contemporary reflections of her legacy along Washington State's waterfronts.

...and a film was born — reflections from Nancy Bourne Haley
Finding Thea was inspired by the spirit of Thea Foss. In the winter of 2004, while sitting at a club meeting talking about the Tacoma pioneer, it hit me that a filmed story for the 21st Century explaining this immigrant woman's legacy to the region was long overdue. I was trained and had made documentary films in my earlier career, and was itching to get back into the medium somehow. As I look back several years now, I see that I relied on my intuition about an idea and took a risk to see it through. I now feel the choices I made along the way will be a lasting reward for our community — all much as Thea must have felt about her life.

My first point of inquiry was to the Working Waterfront Maritime Museum, a non–profit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the people whose livelihoods are integrally linked with the sea in and around Tacoma, Washington. I had heard the Museum, located on the Thea Foss Waterway, was thinking about creating a new exhibit on the life and accomplishments of their location's namesake. Tom Cashman, the Executive Director, was immediately taken by the idea, and agreed to support the project.

I knew if I was going to have any success in making this film and raising the necessary funding to support the effort, I had to enlist the partnership of more established, accomplished filmmakers. I went directly to local colleagues from my graduate school days, Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers, who enthusiastically agreed to offer their inspired expertise to the project. Their help has been invaluable, and this film is equally theirs as it is mine.

The months and years of talking to people around Puget Sound, decision–making, brainstorming, filming, editing, screening the film for thousands of appreciative viewers have been most satisfying. We feel indebted to the many people who believed in our vision and helped make this film possible. We regret not being able to use all the hours of film we shot, including an interview with Drew Foss and Henryetta "Tooty" Foss Hager and the May 2005 centennial celebration of Norwegian independence at Tacoma's Normanna Hall. But the story had a life of its own and has come together in a form and style that we hope touches you as it has us.
 Finding Thea was made possible by these generous contributors: 

  • SaltChuk Resources, Inc.  
  •  Marine Resources Group 
  •  Foss Maritime Company
  • Humanities Washington Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and local contributors
  •  Port of Tacoma 
  •  The Gottfried & Mary Fuchs Foundation
  •  Foss Waterway Seaport home of the Working Waterfront Maritime Museum
  • Rudolph J. & Daphne A. Munzer Foundation 
  •  Norwegian–American Foundation
  • Thrivent Financial for Lutherans
  • Henryetta Foss Hager
  •  Susan Galloway
  •  Aloha Club
  • Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society
  • Suzan Nettleship
Luna Team Young Thea Older Thea Andrew and Thea Cast and Luna Team