Find of the Month

Each month we highlight interesting, important, and odd items from our collection, along with the stories they tell.

Most recent Find of the Month

February 2024 - Aid for the unemployed

five men standing near bricks, 1915

In late 1914, Police Chief Austin Griffiths grew concerned about the increasing number of unemployed Seattleites. He wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council on November 5 pointing out how one shelter, the Workingmens' Home, was at capacity and turning away many who needed a place to sleep.

He suggested possible ways for the facility to house more people, including building an addition, adding a third tier of bunks, and allowing people to sleep on the floor. He also proposed delaying the demolition of the nearby pest house so people in need could sleep there, giving assurances that it had been "thoroughly fumigated." (Longtime readers may recall that the pest house had housed smallpox patients and was burned down shortly after this, to great rejoicing by the neighborhood.)

In a second letter, dated November 10, Chief Griffiths widened his scope. He opened by writing, "I beg to call your attention from a police point of view to the necessity for adequate provision to care for the unemployed. Unless times soon change for the better it will be necessary to choose between providing men with work or furnishing them on a large scale food, shelter and clothing."

He again pointed out that the Workingmens' Home was full, and added that an increasing number were coming to the city jail for overnight shelter. He mentioned that many unemployed men were stranded "in the Washington Street and Occidental Avenue part of the city," continuing, "It is not humane neither is it practical to attempt to drive these unemployed persons" out of Seattle. He stressed that the number of people needing shelter and food "is not a police problem but is a social problem":

In the main these conditions are social and not always individual in their origin and must be dealt with by social action and not by police methods. The police are unable where the numbers are so great to sift out the worthy unemployed from those who are unwilling to work at all and who are properly known as vagrants. But unless society acts through the legislative branch of the city government, or through voluntary agencies does put forth organized effort to provide adequate means for caring for the worthy unemployed, the matter is left to the police to handle as best they may. Necessarily the handling under these conditions amounts to suppression and the lumping together of good and bad, and does more harm than good. To the misfortune of being without work is often added the stigma of being treated as a vagrant or criminal.

City Council passed an ordinance later that month providing for "relief and care" of the unemployed of Seattle, to take effect immediately.

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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
archives@seattle.gov

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.