Finding Thea

FINDING THEA  – produced in collaboration with the Foss Waterway Seaport (Working Waterfront Maritime Museum), released 2006.

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.

Finding Thea is an entertaining and educational historical documentary appropriate for all audiences age 7 and older. It serves schools; libraries; and historical, ethnic and women’s organizations.


Finding Thea is the only ‘encore’ performance from last year’s festival. ‘Every time we played the 24-minute documentary on Thea Foss last year, it sold out so we’re bringing it back.’ ”

— Philip Cowan, Grand Cinema Executive Director,from Weekly Volcano, October 4, 2007

“‘Finding Thea’ combines historical photographs, quotes from journals, and interviews with historians to tell a fascinating story that will appeal to general audiences, as well as anyone studying the histories of immigration, women, and the maritime industry. Highly recommended.”

— The Video Librarian, Jan/Feb 2007

“…Two state of Washington filmmakers smoothly combined old photos, old moving–picture film (including clips from the pre–WWII Hollywood films featuring Marie Dressler’s ‘Tugboat Annie,’… and current video to tell Thea’s story with imagination and considerable insight.

—  Tugbitts, quarterly journal of Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas, Volume 17-3, Autumn/Winter 2006/2007

The real Thea Foss was an important figure in Tacoma history, the founder of what was to become the giant Foss Maritime Co. She richly deserves the spotlight she gets in a well–made, 24–minute documentary by local filmmakers Nancy Bourne Haley, Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers….The documentary reveals intriguing tidbits about this very independent woman from Norway. …’Finding Thea’ is a wonderful tribute to a woman whose spirit still inhabits the city she helped build.

— The News Tribune, October 11, 2006

It is a pleasure to acknowledge the excellent filmmaking craftsmanship evident in your production.”

— CINE Golden Eagle Award, June 2007

Available in Area Libraries

  • Battle Ground School District Library, WA
  • Bellingham Library, WA
  • Columbia County Rural Library, Dayton, WA
  • Eastern Washington University Library, Cheney, WA
  • Everett Public Library, WA
  • Gonzaga University Foley Center Library, WA
  • Jefferson County Library, Port Hadlock, WA
  • King County Libraries, WA
  • Kitsap County Libraries, WA
  • Mid-Columbia Library, Kennewick, WA
  • National Library of Norway, North Central Regional Library, Wenatchee, WA
  • North Olympic Library System, Port Angeles, WA
  • Olympis Educational School District (digital delivery to district schools), WA, Orcas Island Library, WA
  • Pacific Lutheran University Library, Pierce County Libraries, WA
  • San Juan Island Library, WA
  • Scranton, PA Public Library
  • Seattle Public Libraries, Sno-Isle Libraries, WA
  • South Central Seattle Community College Library, Seattle, WA
  • South Seattle Community College, Spokane Public Library, WA
  • Tacoma Public Libraries
  • Timberland Regional Libraries
  • University of Washington Tacoma Library
  • Washington Middle School Library, Seattle, WA
  • Washington State Historical Society
  • Whatcom County Libraries, WA
  • Whitman College Penrose Library, Walla Walla, WA
  • Woodridge Elementary, Bellevue, WA
  • Yakima Valley Libraries, WA

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