The Washington State Jewish Archives was born in 1968 when Elsa Levinson, chairwoman of the Women's Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, proposed a project with the Manuscripts and University Archives Division (now Special Collections) of the UW Libraries to collect primary source materials documenting the Jewish community. The collaborative project focused on conducting oral history interviews with pioneer and long-time members of Seattle's Jewish community. It soon expanded to collect manuscript and photographic materials as well. In 1978, Ancestry and Achievement: An Exhibit of the Early Beginnings of the Seattle Jewish Community was held at Suzzallo Library to showcase the first decade of collecting. The exhibit received great response from the Jewish community. Donations to the collection increased, reflecting not only the community in Seattle but Jewish communities throughout Washington State.
As a corollary to the Jewish History Project, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society (WSJHS) was established in 1980 to promote, develop, and support interest in and study of the history of Jewish communities in Washington State. The WSJHS Archives committee has been instrumental in collecting materials and providing a part-time archivist to develop the collection while UW Special Collections assumes the custodianship of the materials, preserving and managing them along with its other collections. Today, the Washington State Jewish Archives stands as a collaboration between the WSJHS and the UW Special Collections. It is the seminal collection documenting the Jewish experience in Washington State.