2018 Find of the Month Archive

Licensing fortune tellers

An 1897 council bill sought to regulate anyone in Seattle hoping to make a living from looking into the future. The bill stipulated that "no person shall carry on or advertise the business of fortune teller, phrenologist, astrologer, mind-reader, palmist, or medium with the city of Seattle" without obtaining a city license. This regulation applied to both personal services and public exhibitions.

The license fee was set at fifteen dollars for three months or three dollars per day, if a three-month term was not desired. The applicant was to pay the fee to the city treasurer, obtain a receipt, and deliver that receipt to the city comptroller, from whom he or she would obtain the license.

For the purposes of the proposed ordinance, a fortune teller was defined as "any person who shall foretell or profess to foretell the future, and any person who shall tell or profess to tell any past or present event, happening or circumstance without actual personal knowledge thereof." The bill would have set the penalty for operating without a license at $25 (over $700 in today's dollars) and/or five days in the city jail.

Interestingly, one group was exempted from the licensure requirement. The bill stated that "no person shall be required to take out a license for the purpose of giving any exhibition as a medium when such person shall have the written endorsement of the minister of the Spiritualist Church in Seattle, or the written certificate of such minister that such person is a bona fide member of such church and is recognized by such church as a bona fide medium."

The proposal did not pass, although a similar bill (minus the exemption for Spiritualists) did become law in 1904.