Hoovervilles in Seattle

The stock market crash in October 1929 helped trigger a devastating depression that dominated the Northwest for nearly a decade. The economic downturn gradually affected more and more people. Mortgage foreclosures, delinquent taxes, and sharply rising unemployment were the experiences of many. Between 1929 and 1933, a hundred thousand businesses failed across the nation. Racial minorities, women, and the unskilled were the first to lose their jobs. By the time President Hoover left office in 1933, 13 million were unemployed, about 25% of the work force. Some unemployed became transients, searching for jobs and food. In Seattle, unemployment was 11% in April 1930, rising to 26% by January 1935.

Families doubled up in apartments, others were evicted and built makeshift houses. Groups of these dwellings for the homeless were called Hoovervilles. In Seattle, one of the largest cluster of homeless was located on the tide flats on the site of the former Skinner and Eddy Shipyard. Its boundaries were the Port of Seattle, warehouses, and Railroad Avenue. A city of shacks, dwellings were fashioned from packing boxes and any other discarded materials the residents could find. Hundreds of men lived there. Other large cluster of shacks in Seattle were located in the southern industrial section and in Interbay.

Several attempts were made to get rid of the shack towns during the 1930s. City officials saw them as a health problem and a nuisance. Finally, in 1941, a shack elimination program began and the shack towns were systematically eliminated.

Documents

Petitions and protests of unemployed, CF 130044
     Petition to Mayor and City Council for relief to unemployed (Feb. 1931)
     Flyer for demonstration (February 10, 1931)

Correspondence regarding sanitary conditions in Hooverville, CF 147091
     Petition for community bath houses in Hooverville (May 15, 1935)
     Response from Health Department (May 23, 1935)

Excerpt from Health Department Annual Report (1935)

Removal of Shacks
     Request for removal of Interbay shacks (April 24, 1937; CF 154992)
     Request for removal of Interbay shacks (March 4, 1938; CF 158274)

Protest against Hooverville evictions (October 10, 1938; CF 160628)

Petition of Hooverville Committee for removal of WPA Project (October 24, 1938; CF 160740)

Reports on Hooverville locations and conditions, CF 169237
     Letter from Housing Authority to City Council (March 4, 1941)
     Report of Shack Elimination Committee (April 14, 1941)
     Exhibit A: Map of Number and Distribution of Shacks (March 5, 1941)
     Exhibit B: Location and Number of Shacks (March 5, 1941)
     Exhibit C: Physical Conditions and Occupancy of Shacks (March 5, 1941)

Petition of Seattle Housing Authority regarding demolition of shacks. (May 21, 1941; CF 170058)

Requests from Commissioner of Health
     Request regarding additional staff (May 22, 1941; CF 170168)
     Request regarding destruction of shacks (April 13, 1942; CF 173660)

Excerpt from "The Story of Hooverville, In Seattle" by Jesse Jackson, Mayor of Hooverville (1935)
Excerpt from "Hooverville: A Study of a Community of Homeless Men in Seattle" by Donald Francis Roy (1935)
Excerpt from "Seattle's Hooverville" by Leslie D. Erb (1935)
First (1933) and Second (1937) Inaugural Addresses of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Photographs

 Citation: Hooverville at old Skinner and Eddy Shipyard, July 20, 1932. 90.2.0515. Seattle-King County Public Health Department Photograph Files, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.
 Shacks along railroad tracks near 6th and Holgate (June 2, 1933) Citation: Shacks along railroad tracks near 6th and Holgate, June 2, 1933. 90.2.0688. Seattle King County Department of Health Photographs, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.
 Citation: Shacks at 100 Block of Elliott W., June 2, 1933. 90.2.0685. Seattle King County Department of Health Photographs, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.

 Hooverville at old Skinner and Eddy Shipyard (July 20, 1932)
Citation: Hooverville at old Skinner and Eddy Shipyard, July 20, 1932. 90.2.0515. Seattle-King County Public Health Department Photograph Files, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.

 Shacks along railroad tracks near 6th and Holgate (June 2, 1933)
Citation: Shacks along railroad tracks near 6th and Holgate, June 2, 1933. 90.2.0688. Seattle King County Department of Health Photographs, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.
Shacks at 100 Block of Elliott W. (June 2, 1933)
Citation: Shacks at 100 Block of Elliott W., June 2, 1933. 90.2.0685. Seattle King County Department of Health Photographs, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.
 Citation: Hooverville from west, June 20, 1933. 90.2.0521. Seattle-King County Health Department Photograph Files (112-275), Box 1, King County Archives.  Citation: Hooverville from above, March 1, 1934. 90.2.0523. Seattle King County Department of Health Photographs, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.  Citation: Shantytown and garbage dump on Sixth Avenue South. Item 39279, Seattle Municipal Archives.
 Hooverville from west (June 20, 1933)
Citation: Hooverville from west, June 20, 1933. 90.2.0521. Seattle-King County Health Department Photograph Files (112-275), Box 1, King County Archives.
Hooverville from above (March 1, 1934)
Citation: Hooverville from above, March 1, 1934. 90.2.0523. Seattle King County Department of Health Photographs, Box 1 (112-275), King County Archives.
Shantytown and garbage dump on Sixth Avenue South (October 25, 1939)
Citation: Shantytown and garbage dump on Sixth Avenue South. Item 39279, Seattle Municipal Archives.

 

Bibliography

Berner, Richard C. Seattle 1921-1940 From Boom to Bust. Vol. 2. Chapter 19, "Politics of Unemployment and Relief." Seattle: Charles Press, 1992.

Graham, Otis L., Jr. An Encore for Reform: The Old Progressives and the New Deal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Leuchtenburg, William. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

Schwantes, Carolos Arnold. "The Depression Decade" in The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.