2020 Find of the Month Archive

Anti-vaccination

In the Department of Health’s 1918-1919 annual report, the city’s Health Commissioner Hiram M. Reed wrote of an outbreak of disease that he saw as preventable.

We have had an epidemic of a mild type of smallpox in Seattle beginning in January, 1919, and extending thru the year with a total of 869 cases for the year. The responsibility for this rests on the anti-vaccinationist and the Christian Scientist, who not only oppose vaccination, but were able to have a bill passed by the State Legislature preventing obligatory vaccination of school children.

It was the unvaccinated children in the schools that caused it to spread. Being a disease that is spread by personal contact, a glance at the quarantine table will show how rapidly it dropped from 111 cases in May to 85 in June, to 42, 32, and 39 in July, August and September, to jump to 100 in October.

I insisted on vaccination of all contacts or a rigid quarantine for 14 days. Where a case occurred in a lodging house or rooming house we compelled vaccination or quarantine. When occurring in a private residence, all residents within 150 feet were treated as contacts and vaccinated. In the schools where a case occurred, the entire school was vaccinated or quarantined except those having a certificate of vaccination within two years.

The vaccination law which became effective in June, 1919, makes it more difficult to deal with the smallpox question, and this law is a bad piece of legislation, passed to satisfy a small minority. It has been the means of spreading smallpox in this city and is still doing so. The law should be repealed and a law passed compelling vaccination of all school children.

Washington State still allows personal and philosophical exemptions from required vaccinations of school-age children, although in 2019 those exemptions were eliminated for the MMR vaccine after several measles outbreaks.

City Physician

Health Officer annual report

Seattle once had a provision in the city charter that declared the city's health officer "shall act as city physician." This position's duties were not further defined. In the Health Department's annual report for 1899, health officer Dr. M.E.A. McKechnie laid out how this lack of clarity was becoming a problem:

Just what the duties of city physician are can only be guessed at. The public has jumped at the conclusion that the city physician's duties require him to respond to all calls at all hours, and attend, free, all those who may feel themselves unable to employ a physician of their own.

Providing free medical care to the city's residents was taking up more and more of McKechnie's time. He said that in the previous year he had "prescribed for 700 patients in the office, made 621 outside visits, and vaccinated 435 children in my capacity as city physician." Continuing in this vein was "manifestly impossible."

The main duties of the health officer were meant to involve investigating cases of infectious diseases and treating prisoners in the city jail. He noted that "many prisoners are brought in injured, demanding the immediate services of a physician" – but that at such times he was often unavailable due to his work with the city's general population. McKechnie proposed:

As a remedy I would respectfully suggest the passage of an ordinance defining the duties of "city physician," and limiting them to work at police headquarters and the city jail. If it is considered desirable to have the city physician do a general practice among those who may consider themselves too poor to employ a physician of their own it will be necessary to provide an extra physician for the work.

Building the Space Needle

Space Needle under construction

In 1961, work was underway to transform an area in lower Queen Anne into a World's Fair site fit to welcome millions of people the following year. One of the main attractions planned for the site was the new Space Needle, which was to rise 550 feet into the air, towering over the rest of the low-rise neighborhood.

The existing zoning for the area included a height limit of 60 feet, so representatives of the builders and the Century 21 Exposition applied to the Board of Adjustment for a height variance. The board was hesitant, believing it did not have jurisdiction to make "such a substantial variance from the existing code." It did, however, grant the variance – but only for the duration of the fair.

As there were no plans to demolish the Needle after the fair was over, this was not sufficient. In an appeal submitted to City Council, an Exposition representative declared that the temporary variance "will actually be of no use."

Council asked the Board of Adjustment for a report on the appeal. The board stated no objections, in that they didn't see the Needle as contrary to the Comprehensive Plan or to the public interest, but that they felt only City Council could authorize a permanent variance for the structure. Council did indeed rule favorably on the appeal, and Seattle’s skyline gained its most distinctive feature.

Ballpark drinking

baseball field

The Women's City Club of Seattle sent the following letter to City Council in 1945:

Dear Sirs,

Many of our members have experienced disagreeable episodes from indiscriminate drinking at the ball park and in our public parks.

We feel that the lack of enforcement of the Steele Act is disgraceful.

In line with the present drive against juvenile delinquency, we think that the practice of selling beer and permitting the drinking of hard liquor in the Seattle Ball Park and all the public parks is indefensible.

A large percentage of attendance at these places is our youth. These are being impressed by adult conduct.

The Seattle Base Ball Club is a matter of civic pride. Many citizens look forward to attending games but it is becoming obnoxious to the better class of people.

We hope this condition will show marked improvement.

The Steele Act was Washington State's response to the repeal of Prohibition, regulating the sale of liquor and establishing the Liquor Control Board. The council was apparently not too concerned with the ballpark's practices, as they placed the club's letter "on file."

Spanish flu

quarantine table

Health Department reports written at the end of 1918 called out the efforts to combat the outbreak of Spanish flu that had begun in Seattle that October and was still ongoing. The Commissioner of Health, Dr. J.S. McBride, wrote the following to Mayor Ole Hanson:

When the present influenza epidemic reached Seattle it necessitated prompt and drastic action to prevent a repetition of the experiences of some Eastern cities. A closing ban on all Churches, theatres, schools, dance halls, and all places of public assemblage, followed later by an order preventing stores and public offices from opening before ten o'clock A.M. and forcing them to close at three P.M., together with the State Board of Health regulation requiring the wearing of masks, was enforced. A vaccine was made up in our laboratory and furnished to all physicians free of cost, over 200,000 doses being given out.

He noted that these measures had largely brought the epidemic under control, but that "indiscriminate mixing of people during the peace celebration" in late November caused cases to rise again. Efforts to fight the disease early on were hampered by World War I, with a large influx of soldiers and war workers into the city, while a number of doctors were away on military service.

McBride's report recounted how an early October survey of hospital facilities found that only 12 beds were available for influenza patients. The decision was made to turn the old courthouse into a temporary flu hospital, which at the time of his writing had cared for 1003 patients who "otherwise would have been denied either nursing or hospital treatment, and undoubtedly saved many lives."

A separate report by the department's Quarantine Division included this description of the outbreak:

The fall of 1918 ushered into our city the dreadful epidemic of so-called Spanish Influenza, and we were totally unprepared to cope with this virulent monster that racked the souls of both city and country throughout the entire world a few months previously. Handicapped by routine red tape at first, later by the careful physician (careful not to report his cases), the "Doubting Thomas" of the laity, and in many instances the gross neglect on the part of persons having the disease in a mild form, the loss of life, health and happiness has been appalling. It may be said here for those who have given their every energy, and in a number of cases their lives, in combatting this scourge, that the crown of a martyr is much too small, and we hope to see in the near future ample hospital facilities to care for the needy sick, and the necessary laws, both municipal and state, regulating quarantine. Spanish Influenza is still with us, and in all probability will be for some time to come. Absolute, strict quarantine, and that alone, is the only remedy. Penalties for physician and layman alike for unreported cases, isolation in hospitals when possible, and fumigation in all cases, regardless of type, should be the requirements.

Meanwhile the Sanitation Division noted that "considerable effort has been expended in enforcing the ordinance against expectoration" but asked that the Police Department take over ensuring citizens' compliance. The epidemic eased in 1919 and gradually tapered off, overall hitting Seattle less hard than many other cities.

Fair employment

petition

In the last months of World War II, eight Seattle citizens wrote to City Council to request an ordinance be enacted that would "make it unlawful and provide a penalty for employers in the city to discriminate against citizens in this community because of race, creed, or color." State law already prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, but employment was not covered.

The letter tied the need for such an ordinance to the greater war effort. "We are deeply concerned with democracy and the extension of democracy to all the people in our community…In World War II, those that have already died, and those that are yet to die, will have died in vain unless every man and woman throughout this nation of ours shall have the right to worship God as they please, work wherever their abilities permit, and to mingle among our citizenry without fear of discrimination."

In their report on the petition, the council's Judiciary Committee noted that a similar bill had passed in the state's House of Representatives that year, but was indefinitely postponed in the Senate. The state bill had provided for a paid commission and staff to enforce the law. The committee noted, "It is manifest that such an ordinance covering all 'employment' would require a like enforcing agency and prosecution could only be in the Police Court. It is plain that the city, lacking the broad legal powers and the financial resources and enforcing machinery of the State, is in no position to create and finance such an enforcing agency." Thus the committee recommended the petition be denied.

The citizens' group tried again in January of 1946, this time submitting a proposed ordinance focused mainly on City employment and contracting, alongside a petition with almost 100 pages of signatures. The cover letter calls out some of the prominent signatories, including state legislators, labor and religious leaders, the King County Sheriff and King County Prosecuting Attorney, and writer Langston Hughes. The letter encouraged adoption of the ordinance to "give renewed hope and faith to our citizens that democracy is vitally alive in the city of Seattle."

Supporters of the issue were also persistently lobbying at the state level and finally broke through in 1949, when the Washington State Legislature passed the Fair Employment Practices Act.

Floating stadium

rendering of proposed floating stadium

Fresh off the high of the successful 1962 World's Fair, local developers were looking for the next big building project. Seattle was hoping to attract professional sports teams and needed a stadium plan to do so. In 1963, a group of companies put together a proposal which began, "The Seattle World's Fair was the product of bold imaginative thinking…the idea within these pages fits that mold…bold, imaginative, forward looking!" That idea? A floating stadium.

The planners envisioned a 75,000-seat multipurpose venue with a retractable roof, at a tentative cost of $15 million. The site could be used not only for professional football and baseball, but also for Seafair water events. Apparently another group was proposing to build a stadium in the Kent Valley; the floating stadium group strongly argued that a more central location was better for financial success.

The proposed site was the waterfront at the foot of Harrison Street in Interbay, with an extension of the monorail built to reach it. The planners noted that the site "has been platted since 1889, with no apparent improvements." They believed the stadium, "along with the present Century 21 facilities, will afford the world’s foremost civic and athletic complex." Parking facilities built for the Fair could be repurposed to serve the stadium, and attendees could arrive by water as well as by land.

A stadium on water obviously would have some unique engineering challenges. Naval architect L.R. Glosten wrote a letter of support in which he proposed a system of concrete pontoons spread out under the facility, as well as a wave-dampening breakwater around the perimeter ("which could undoubtedly be worked into the overall design in a very attractive manner"). He noted that stability was a concern not for safety reasons, but simply to maintain a level playing surface on the field.

City Council's Parks and Public Grounds Committee asked several City departments to look into the plan, and the responses were not as enthusiastic as the boosters had hoped. The proposal was placed on file and apparently not pursued further.

"A disgrace to any respectable community"

1891 petition

In 1891, almost 100 concerned citizens petitioned the mayor and city council regarding a saloon license application for the southwest corner of Fourth and Pike. The proposed saloon would be in the same building as the Juanita House, which the petition described as "private lodgings of a respectable kind only." The petition (which was titled "A REMONSTRANCE") explained,

[t]he proprietor is in no way connected with the applicants for said License, and [does] not wish a Saloon in the building…and we believe the application is made only for the money there is in the Saloon business, that there are several Churches around in the neighborhood of said corner, and that people pass by said Corner in going to and coming from their several places of worship, and that there is a District School on Pine Street, between 3rd. and 4th., and also the University where Children pass daily in going to and coming from the said several Schools, that it is strictly a residence portion of the City, with business houses on Pike St; THEREFORE we humbly ask that the application for a License be not granted.

The proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick O'Brien, wrote separately to concur with the petition to deny the license. They wrote that they were "endeavoring to keep a respectable class of persons as lodgers," and that if the saloon license was granted they would be forced to give up their business because they would be unable to "secure a desirable class of people."

Apparently their wishes were overruled, as the archives holds two additional letters from Mr. O'Brien, both dated two years later, with complaints about the "annoyances and disturbances" caused by the saloon downstairs from the rooms where his family and his lodgers lived. He claimed that the owner, a Mr. Hull, conducted his business "in a disorderly and disreputable manner – that is he permits and encourages drunkenness on said premises and lewd women to frequent his said saloon and to become intoxicated." The customers would "drink and carouse nightly from about 10 PM to about 4 AM," and their "vile and profane language can be distinctly heard in my rooms," depriving him of sleep every night and making it difficult to keep his rented rooms occupied. He declared the saloon "a disgrace to any respectable community," but it is unclear from the records whether or not city officials ever got involved.