2013 Find of the Month Archive
- Wage Increase
- Ryther Home
- Ballard water dispute
- German Club
- Unnatural Practices Commission
- Liquor and amusements
- Stray baseballs
- Trash disposal
- Protection Secretary's report
- Gun control
The following petition, signed by close to 200 city employees, was submitted in August 1907:
TO THE MAYOR AND THE MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.