2013 Find of the Month Archive

Wage Increase

The following petition, signed by close to 200 city employees, was submitted in August 1907:



A little less than one year ago, we the undersigned laborers in the employ of the various departments of the City of Seattle, made request to you that our wages be increased from $2.25 to $2.50 per day. This request was made necessary by the increased cost of living. It must now be evident to you that this increase, which you kindly granted to us about the first of the year, is not sufficient to enable us, and especially those of us who have families to support and educate, to adequately care for ourselves and them.

We do not wish to be unreasonable. As society is now organized we do not expect to receive more than enough to furnish us with the means of subsistence and a few of the ordinary comforts of life; but believing that your own experience will convince you that our present wage of $2.50 per day is inadequate even to furnish the necessaries of life for ourselves and for our children; and believing that it is your wish that the standard of living amongst the laboring class shall be as high as possible in this country, we the undersigned laborers, representing the laborers in the employ of the City, do now request that our daily wage be increased from $2.50 to $2.75 per day.

The petition was put on file, but it does appear that wages were adjusted the following year.



The Seattle Veterans Action Center (SEA-VAC) was established in 1971 to provide readjustment assistance to veterans, especially minority, disadvantaged and disabled Vietnam War veterans. The agency's work included employment assistance, benefit counseling, and referrals to services. In the early 1970s, the organization wrote a number of public service announcements to air on local radio stations. The spots were aimed both at veterans, to advise them of services available to them, and at the general public, to raise awareness of the needs of veterans in their community.

Many PSA's were short announcements about things such as how to access GI Bill benefits, upgrade a less-than-honorable discharge, or claim a newly passed Washington State veterans' bonus. One announced a free daylong party for veterans to be held on the beach at Sand Point Naval Air Station ("Climb out of that hole and join us!"). Other short spots encouraged employers to list their job openings with SEA-VAC, reminding them of all the reasons veterans made good employees.

In 1972, radio station KBLE ran a series of SEA-VAC's ads featuring one unemployed veteran each day, outlining his job qualifications and experience, and encouraging anyone who had job leads for him to contact SEA-VAC. One example ran, in part,

Three years in the Army and they put you in the unemployment line. That's the way it's been for over ten thousand King County Veterans during recent months. That's the way it is for Vietnam-Era veteran James Leslie Mearns, Jr. During his time in the Army, Jim did solid work as a clerk and as a translator-interpreter in Polish. He's a skilled typist, speed-writer, and operator of office duplicating machines. But he's been unemployed for five months now. All Jim is looking for is a chance to earn an honest living... If you know of a job for Jim Mearns, call Seattle Veterans Action Center.

SEA-VAC was not above trying to speak the language of the youth. One PSA began, "Say, veteran: Are you tired of the same old jive? No bread, no gig, getting nowhere fast? Well, get hip to a whole new scene: SEA-VAC." Another told vets that "there's heavy stuff going on in Congress and it's going to mean more bread for you." But the organization was also blunt about the challenges faced by this generation of veterans, as in a spot that began, "The Vietnam Veteran: It's different for him. He doesn't come home to cheering crowds and welcoming parades. He faces instead a silent public turning away from his cries for help."

Ryther home

Olive Ryther was an early resident of Seattle who became well known for her work caring for orphaned children, and the organization she founded still bears her name today. For a period in the 1890s, Ryther also ran the City Mission Foundling Home which served unwed mothers and their babies, and which was located in the Ryther family home near Ninth and Alder.

Not all her neighbors were happy about this aspect of her work, and eleven of them signed onto a complaint letter to the City Council in 1896. The letter noted that "the Ryther Home...is ostensibly used for charitable purposes and particularly for the reformation of fallen women and as a 'lying-in' establishment." They claimed the building was overcrowded and poorly ventilated, and that the wash and laundry water "is thrown on the ground to run into the alley and adjoining lots."

The letter expressed alarm about "diseases of a deadly nature" that had broken out in the home, noting that smallpox had killed one patient and quarantined several more. However, their main concern seemed to be about the types of people the facility served. They complained that "in the immediate vicinity many families reside who are exposed to continual danger to their health by reason of the class of persons kept therein the 'home' and the negligent manner in which the same is kept; that said 'home' in the way in which it is conducted and the kind of people kept there is a continual menace to the citizens and their families for blocks around."

As requested by the petitioners, the Council's Sanitation Committee conducted an investigation of the facility, but did not reach the conclusion the neighbors were hoping for. The committee report recommended that the Board of Health instruct the Rythers to improve their plumbing, but otherwise noted that the Board "[did] not recognize the Home as a nuisance more than any other well regulated hospital."

Ballard water dispute

The following letter was sent to the Ballard Mayor and City Council in 1903 [sic throughout]:

Ballard Mar 17th 1903 Block 4 Gilman Park & Ship St

Your Honerable Mayor & Council Gentleman

This is something that some of the Council knows before, but if you please Mr Clerk read this aloud so they will all hear it now.

This is concerning the water trouble between Mr Porter & Mr H Langenbacker & myself Johan Jansen. Some two months ago Mr Porter went to work on Sunday & worked hard wheeled all the ashes he found at the schoolhouse on to his lot, packed & covered up his waterdrain that had been running through his lot, so the water had no outlet, then the water had to run on the top of the ground & over on to Mr Langenbacker's lots, & on part of mine. The three waterclosets got full & overflowed, so it was bound to leave a kind of a dung soup on three lots.

And now when the sun comes out warm it is bound to steam so we will not need any other kind of perfume in this neighborhood.

Now then I want the City Council & the City Atty & the Health Officers to let me know if that was right for Mr Porter to do so.

Now then if it is right for Mr Porter to do so certainly it must be right for me to close up the drain that runs through my lot so Ship St be flooded and those that join Ship St.

Mr Porter came to me last Sunday & said to me now if you do not stop the water from running over my lot, then I will go right to work & build a concrete wall along the fence between us, so then you will have all the water on your lots.

If I was living on Mr Porter's place then I would open the drain & give the water an outlet so that the dirty water would not run up to my kitchen door, or neither would Mr Porter & Mr Langenbacker had to come to me last Sunday for to give me a racket, because I did not stop the water & rain from coming down from above here.

I for my part am very sorry that there is such men that can make such a racket with neighbors without any cause.

Yours Resp. Johan Jansen

German Club

In the late 1930s, the existence of a German club on First Hill caused some consternation among the club's neighbors. A Richard G. Lewis repeatedly wrote to the City Council complaining about excessive noise, swearing, and drunkenness. He protested the "disgraceful conditions" and claimed that "it is nothing to see a young or middle aged lady drunk." He went on, "It was a great mistake for them to come up here at all. The way they carry on they should be on the tide flats." He often got his neighbors to sign on to petitions complaining about the club, and some neighbors wrote their own protest letters complaining of drunkenness and immorality.

The police chief sent a report to City Council in response to one of Lewis's letters, saying the police had investigated the complaints and had found no reason to make any arrests, finding the club to be in compliance with local and state laws. He wrote, "Mr. Lewis has made some very slanderous statements of the German people. My own experience with men and women of German ancestry is that they are law abiding citizens. Their fraternal societies surely cannot be conducted in the manner described by Mr. Lewis."

In response to the barrage of complaints, the License Committee eventually recommended that the German House no longer rent out the building for dances, so that the only ones held there would be events sponsored by the organization itself. The club agreed to do this "if it will be helpful in dealing with this class of problems," but noted that "this requirement is not made of other similar organizations."

As Germany gained more power on the world stage, a new sort of complaint arose about the German House. In 1937, newspapers reported that a pro-Nazi meeting took place at the club, and the License Committee was asked to investigate. In response, the club's leaders stated that they rented the hall without knowing the purpose of the meeting, and had "no direct knowledge" of what happened. "However, as loyal American citizens, we pledge ourselves not knowingly to rent our premises to any individual or organization for the purpose of anti-American propaganda be that Communist, Nazi or Fascist." This satisfied the Committee and the club's dance hall license was not revoked.



Early Clerk Files hint at the effect communicable diseases had on Seattle in the late 19th century and the actions taken by the city government to limit the spread of infections. In 1895, scarlet fever hit the population to such an extent that the Board of Health ordered all books from Rainier School and South School to be burned in order to prevent further contagion. However, a City Council committee report noted that the burning was done "indiscriminately" and included books "that had not been in the school rooms at all during the time of said epidemic."

After the burning, the question before Council was, who should pay to replace the textbooks? Since the books were owned by the students, not the school, this was a sticky question. The Board of Education offered to fund half of the cost, and the committee recommended the city fund the other half - "not because we believe that the city is liable for the same, but...we feel duty bound to reimburse the parents of children for the loss they have sustained by such arbitrary authority of the Health Officer." Attached to the memo was a list of the destroyed books, which included spellers, dictionaries, and books on arithmetic, geography, and music.

Three years after the scarlet fever epidemic, diphtheria hit the city. Looking for ways to halt the spread of the disease among Seattle's children, the Board of Health asked that a carousel in Belltown be closed indefinitely. The carousel was located at First and Wall, near where four cases of the illness had recently been diagnosed. In a letter to City Council, the Board noted that "large numbers of children congregate here every day, and as long as diphtheria exists in that part of the city, the running of this place of amusement will be a means of spreading the disease." The ride was indeed shut down, and several months later, after petitioning the city, the carousel's operator was credited his license fee for the period of time he was ordered to be closed.

Unnatural Practices Commission

Throughout 1978, Seattle's citizens vigorously debated Initiative 13, which aimed to remove sexual orientation from the city's Fair Employment and Open Housing ordinances. This would have the effect of making it legal once again to discriminate against gays and lesbians in housing and the workplace.

In the midst of the debates and demonstrations, some anti-13 activists filed an initiative petition of their own, which sought to establish an Unnatural Practices Commission. This commission would include an officer of the John Birch Society as one of its seven members, and was to enforce standards of behavior and "exempt certain purveyors of unnatural practices from the civil rights to employment and housing" - namely, the same thing Initiative 13 was attempting to do to gays and lesbians.

How did the petitioners define "unnatural practices"? To begin with, they claimed that "over ninety per cent of the child molestation incidents reported to medical and/or legal authorities in the City of Seattle have involved abuse perpetrated by heterosexual males." Therefore, it was proposed that no heterosexual male should be protected by civil rights ordinances if his work involved contact with minors, or if a minor lived within 1000 feet of him.

The long list of others with unnatural practices included "males who shave the corners of their beards," "persons who work on the Christian sabbath," "persons who drink coffee, tea or alcoholic beverages," and "men who carry bags or purses, women who wear pants and eunuchs who wear anything."

The proposed ordinance also made some organizational changes within the city, stating, "The powers of the Department of Human Rights shall be transferred to the Director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol... The powers of the Office of Women's Rights shall be transferred to a METRO bus heading toward Burien." The final section of the ordinance reads, "The duration of this ordinance shall be eternal."

City agencies engaged in some internal debate regarding whether to certify the initiative for signature gathering, given that the measure "is so clearly and palpably unconstitutional or illegal in most respects." City Attorney Doug Jewett wrote a lengthy legal analysis, listing federal and state constitutional provisions clearly violated by the proposed ordinance. However, he could find "no authority under judicial precedent in Washington to reject the measure or refuse to process the same," so a ballot title was supplied.

In the end, the sponsors did not turn in signatures for the initiative, and may not have even attempted to gather them, as they were mainly looking for publicity for the anti-Initiative 13 cause. In the end, a majority of Seattle's citizens came down on their side, and Initiative 13 ended up being defeated by a significant margin.

Liquor and amusements


A group of about forty Seattle businessmen petitioned the Mayor and City Council in 1895 to permit amusements (such as concerts, dances, shows, and the like) to be allowed in conjunction with saloons. They wrote that they believed "the best interests of the City of Seattle would be subserved by, and that large revenues could be derived from licensing and allowing amusements under proper restrictions to be carried on and conducted in, and adjoining to places where intoxicating liquors are sold." Signatures on the petition included prominent local citizens such as banker Jacob Furth and a representative of the Schwabacher Company.

In response to the idea, dozens of temperance-minded citizens signed a separate petition protesting the idea of passing such an ordinance. They stated, "We believe that the passage of such an ordinance would reestablish in our city the disreputable variety theater and dance house against which we earnestly protest. We believe that such places are detrimental to the best interest of our City and do our citizens a thousand times more harm than can be compensated by all the revenues derived therefrom."

After consideration of the petitions, the Council's Committee on Police, License and Revenue reported a split decision. The minority believed that the Council should go ahead with the ordinance, claiming that a license system "would keep the places to be regulated under proper control and restraint," and noted that the petition bore the signatures "of the majority of the best business men of our city." However, the majority - which reported "adversely" on the idea - won the day, and liquor was kept separate from other entertainments for the time being. Nevertheless, it was not long before the temperance movement lost the battle and Seattle's saloon quarter once again became a fully operational entertainment district.

Stray baseballs


With spring comes baseball, and with baseball comes broken windows. Over the years, citizens and businesses have complained to the city about stray fly balls damaging their property and asked what could be done.

In one example, three Mount Baker neighbors wrote a joint letter to the City Council in 1920 requesting an ordinance to prohibit playing baseball within 50 feet of "any dwelling, garage, or other private owned property." The neighbors complained [sic throughout], "we have suffered all kinds of damage to windows, shrubery, fruit trees, lawns, gardens, and buildings by the boys who congregate in a vacant lot ajoining us. What incentive is there to labor with gardens shrubery or lawns if they are constantly exposed to the danger of being ruined in one Sunday afternoon." They closed their letter by asking, "Are we obliged to bear with this state of affairs when we are at the same time taxed so heavily for the upkeep of playgrounds all over the city?"

Almost forty years later, a funeral parlor located across from Broadway Playfield (now Cal Anderson Park) complained that baseballs were wreaking havoc on their property and endangering people on the sidewalk. Their letter stated, "Last Spring a ball was hit through a second floor window narrowly missing the head of an elderly lady sitting in her apartment in our building. Last Sunday a ball came over the fence hitting a light cable, was deflected into the street and hit a parked car. Except for the cable, it would have broken the Cathedral glass window in our new mortuary building."

The Parks Department had previously hoped to fix the problem with an educational campaign, by posting notices at the field and alerting coaches to the issue. The funeral parlor, and apparently also the Council, found this to be an unsatisfactory response, prompting the department to take another look at the question.

The Superintendent of Parks acknowledged that "the more lively baseball and improved batting eye of some of our Broadway players have proved that our present fencing is inadequate." He said they had considered prohibiting "hardball" from the field, "but this playfield has a long history of hardball playing and we have no alternate site to offer." His suggested solution was building a 40-foot-high fence, but he noted that the estimated cost of $2,391.00, "including state tax," was going to have to come out of money committed for some other project.

Trash disposal


Disposal of garbage was a problem in Seattle's early days, as the city's population was growing while needed infrastructure was still evolving. In 1897, citizens living near a dump at 6th and Lane sent a petition to the Council stating that the site was "an intolerable nuisance, which is incompatible with the health and comfort of those residing in the vicinity."

Responding to the complaints, the City Council's Health and Sanitation Committee paid a visit to the landfill to see its operations in person. Compared to the city's previous practice of "dumping in the Bay and littering the same, to be washed backward and forwards by the tides," they found the dump's method of burning and covering the trash to be preferable. They did, however, urge "all due caution" in preventing odors, writing that "at no time should the sun be allowed to shine upon the [trash] any longer than a man can cover up or burn it." If these measures were observed, the committee believed the dump would "ultimately be a blessing rather than a curse to all parties concerned."

However, in the ensuing two months, the Committee had received another petition complaining about the site, and at that point acknowledged the problem with dumping trash "so near dwelling houses." They recommended that garbage be "taken farther out of the city and burned in a fenced place to prevent the above floating away by the tide." City Engineer R.H. Thomson suggested a site on Railroad Avenue between Connecticut and Atlantic Streets for this purpose.

However, moving the dump further out did not eliminate complaints about garbage odors. By the following summer, there were enough protests about the smells from garbage wagons traveling through the city that the City Council passed Ordinance 4955, which ordained that "any wagon, cart or other conveyance used in the removal of swill within the City of Seattle shall have a tightly closed body, box or receptacle for the swill...to prevent the escape of any odor, or the escape or leakage of swill." The ordinance also prohibited the transport of garbage except between the hours of 10:00 pm and 8:00 am.

Protection Secretary's report

From 1909 until 1912, the Seattle City Council appropriated $175 per month to the YWCA to fund the "protecting and caring for young women and girls." Protection Secretary Mary Martin wrote to Mayor Hiram Gill on the last day of 1910 to give her report of the year's activities.

Martin said that she investigated 368 cases during 1910, involving 730 calls and 1616 interviews. Her work included:

  • Investigating sixteen runaway girls, of which ten were found
  • Sending seven women to the State Insane Hospital
  • Reporting two women to their probation officers
  • Sending about a dozen girls and women to maternity homes
  • Removing four girls from the Mammoth skating rink and one from the Dreamland dancing pavilion
  • Referring twenty women to employment agencies
  • Reporting three girls to truant officers
  • Ensuring the arrest of two men for seduction
  • Finding a kidnapped girl
  • Holding two forced marriages "to legitimize five children"

Her report stated that "the number of young wives who have been deserted by their husbands is increasing each month," and wondered if there was some way the men could be compelled to work to support their families. She encouraged the establishment of some sort of workhouse or laundry for women serving time in the city jail, feeling "it would be far better for these women than sitting playing cards." And she expressed special concern for women between 45 and 70 years old "without home or friends" who were not served by existing programs for younger women, and who could not get into the existing Old Ladies Home, which had a long waiting list. She hoped a municipal lodging house could be founded so that these women had lodging options other than the county hospital or poor farm.

Martin praised the cooperation she had received from the Police Department, but did have some suggestions for improvement, particularly greater enforcement of the curfew law. She noted that "Children of tender years, both boys and girls are on the streets until very late hours at night," and that if everyone knew the curfew would be enforced by all officers, "I feel sure the work of looking after young girls would not be so hard."

Gun control

In June 1914, Seattle's chief of police wrote to the mayor and city council urging passage of a gun control ordinance, attaching a recently passed Chicago law that he thought was a good model. The law required sellers to obtain a license and to report all sales, and required buyers to obtain permits, which could be refused to minors and criminals. It also prohibited the display of weapons in store windows. The chief stated that "a number of officers in this department believe that such an ordinance, if enacted in this city, would do very much good."

A bill based on the Chicago law was introduced about a month later (after a second urging by the police chief), but languished under discussion for another 18 months. During that time, citizens and other interested parties made their views on the proposed law known to the council. Owners of sporting goods stores wanted the law to forbid secondhand and pawn shops from stocking the regulated weapons. If the law was passed as drafted, they were concerned that "legitimate dealers will adhere strictly to its terms while the second hand and pawn shops will violate it freely, selling to anyone, licensed or unlicensed. In this way we will be at a greater disadvantage than now."

Another store owner protested the proposed $25 yearly license fee to sell firearms, claiming it "operates to the benefit of the big Gun dealers and will bring the death knell of such firms as our own." He stated that his store had been "doing a straightforward, honest, clean business in Seattle for the past twenty odd years...and no one can point the finger of reproach at us for furnishing arms to crooks." He claimed the law "will never prevent crooks getting guns, but will make it difficult for honest citizens to obtain them for legitimate use."

However, the other side was speaking up as well. One woman wrote in support of the proposed regulations because "every fool nowadays can by [sic] a weapon and come and shoot other[s] down." She wrote of talking to a woman whose cat had been stolen; the woman had told the writer she would "fix the party so she would never again take a cat" by shooting her. The writer believed that if guns were harder to obtain, there "would be less crime and expense to the country."

The ordinance was finally voted on and passed in January of 1916 - but was promptly vetoed by Mayor Hiram Gill. He disliked both the sellers' license fees and the buyers' permits, saying the latter created a hassle for law-abiding citizens "who purchase weapons for the protection which they will give women at home," while criminals would always find a way to get a gun. He also argued that most weapons were not used for criminal purposes, claiming that "the greatest protection which homes have is where the ordinary criminal believes there is a firearm." He added, "Many people have been killed with axes, and you might just as well legislate against them."

Councilmembers were not persuaded by the mayor's arguments - they voted to override the veto, and the passed bill became Ordinance 35790.

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.