A Poetry Double Dare

In case you missed it, last week Serena challenged us all to read poetry and I was more than eager to pick up the gauntlet. In fact, I had already started building quite a stack of poetry books because I was aware that April is National Poetry Month. I’ve gone on record as stating I hate poetry and in the years since then I have changed my tune, reading any remotely interesting book of poems that crosses my path. Here are a few that are currently on my nightstand. Since poetry is so subjective, I’ve included an excerpt from one poem for each book to give you a sense of what’s waiting for you inside each book.

Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

in our family we believe everything is inherited.
if hair is from our father then fear must be from our mother,
who is not hairy, actually, not that brown, either,
but her accent still coats her skin & sticks like wax.
-excerpt from I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom

Known for being an incredible performance poet, Melissa Lozada-Oliva has written a book and I am here for it! Peluda, or hairy/hairy beast, explores Latina identity, body image, and hair removal among other things. I find the words flow the best when I imagine Melissa saying them. The rhythm is infectious but instead of simply moving on, I find myself going back over the same poem multiple times and savoring it. It’s that kind of book.

Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

But you can be your own gin
and your own best sip too.
You can make with him a nation and still be sovereign,
your own gold coin and your own honest trade.
You can touch his hand
and still be your own snapping fingers
when the snare has gone quiet.
-excerpt from appletree [on black womanhood, from and to Erykah Badu]

Last year I read an essay Dr. Ewing wrote. I can’t recall now which essay or publication, but I can definitively say her words sparked something inside me. That same spark is present throughout Electric Arches her book of poetry, prose, and art. Themes center around Black girlhood and womanhood with dashes of Afro-futurism sprinkled throughout. Dr. Ewing has been called the Zora Neale Hurston of her generation. Pick up Electric Arches and see why.

Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

Men don’t compare us
with other women.
They compare us
to an ideal.
-An Impossible Ideal

Lang Leav has previously published several books, but this is my first foray into her work. While 215 pages seems a bit lengthy for a book of poetry, I am here to reassure you that the poetry and prose are minimalistic: relatively short but nevertheless accessible to the reader. Themes here include self-discovery, loss, and falling in love. I’d recommend Sea of Strangers to fans of Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur.

All three of these poets are active and awesome on social media. They are also poets of color and women (metaphorically) cutting themselves open to lyrically share their stories–good and bad–with us, the readers.

I once hated poetry because I thought it was all awkwardly positioned lines with the sole intent to confuse me in the name of a rhyming scheme. With poetry trending towards relatability and understanding the reader’s soul, I now embrace poetry and hope you will too–I double dare you!

If you read one of these or any book of poetry you can enter to win a prize in our monthly reading challenge. But I’m hoping you’re so taken with these poems you’ll be happy with the everlasting prize of discovering a poet that speaks to you.

Welcome to the poetry party. Serena and I are happy to have you here with us!

You Are an Obsession

Nowadays, openly proclaiming your obsessive allegiance to a beloved pop culture item is not only considered normal but celebrated. Be it a book, movie, TV show, graphic novel, album or almost anything, you can feel safe in declaring your intense admiration for it. As someone who in his youth had to hide his love of Star Trek (definitely team Spock), The Thing (the John Carpenter version thank you very much) and tactical board games (care for a game of Midway?) from the ‘norms,’ this is a welcome change.

But even today, some might argue that certain individuals take it a bit too far. While it is definitely subjective, since one person’s beloved hobby can be another person’s time wasting succubus, it is hard to deny that there is a line between really liking something and being obsessively, perhaps destructively, devoted to it. Here at the library, we have several newer books that examine both the objects of hyper devotion and the people who love them, and let you decide. Read on to learn more.

Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom by George Dohrmann

We’ve all seen them. In the panning shot of the spectators at a sporting event there is always at least one person in full body paint and no shirt screaming their support for the team. While many love the home team, some really, really, really love them. George Dohrmann sets out to discover what motivates a person to become a ‘superfan’ and how it affects their lives and the lives of those around them. While there definitely is a lot that is bizarre and funny here, the author does not exploit his subjects. Rather he genuinely tries to understand what motivates obsessive sports fans and conveys their humanity to the reader.

Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why by Benjamin Errett

Rather than focusing on one object of pop culture desire, this work tries to create a framework for understanding why we like certain things so passionately. The author cleverly equates our cultural likes to the sense of taste, breaking our passions down into Sweet (ex. Cozy Murder Mysteries), Sour (ex. Mad Magazine), Salty (ex. True Detective), Bitter (ex. Tim and Eric) and Indescribable (ex. Gilmore Girls). While this might sound highly regimented, it is actually quite fluid and a fun way to look at the cultural artifacts we so adore.

Furry Nation: the True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture by Joe Strike

This is not a critical examination of ‘furry fandom’, a fascination with anthropomorphic animal characters, but a celebration of the culture itself. The author is a longtime participant and well placed to report on its history and the many forms it takes: from well-known cartoon characters and sports mascots to individuals creating their own works. He also argues that the desire to emulate animals, and see them as equals, can be seen in the human species from early on in the form of cave paintings and ancient rituals.

Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden

The interesting premise of this book is simple but effective: a person’s true devotion comes out when threatened. Steven Hyden demonstrates this by exploring nineteen musical rivalries that prompt fans to defend ‘their band’ to the bitter end. All the classics, and some you may not know about, are here: David Lee Roth vs. the Van Halen brothers, Oasis vs. Blur, Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West, Dr. Dre vs. Eazy-E and many more. Hyden does not try to declare any winners, however.  He is more interested in the choices fans make and what that says about ourselves and what we choose to love.

People Like Us: the Cult of the Rocky Horror Picture Show by Lauren Everett

Perhaps one of the first groups that could be considered superfans, as well as cosplayers, devotees of the Rocky Horror Picture Show get the lovingly crafted photo-essay book that they deserve here. This work is a celebration of those who like to dress up as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff, Brad, Janet and, who could forget, Magenta as well as other characters and attend midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show all while shouting back at the screen. While primarily made up of photographs of the participants, this work also touches on why people choose to participate and what they get out of it.

Not only will you get an appreciation for other people’s passions after reading these books, you just might feel better about embracing your own.  Don’t dream it, be it, as they say.

Movers and Shakers – the Women who Helped Build Snohomish County

A group of women, some seated and some standing. All are wearing light-colored dresses with long white aprons over. All are also wearing ruffled white nurses caps, as well as ruffled collars.

Nurses at Everett’s first hospital, which opened on Broadway in January of 1894. Image from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room Collection.

In our last A Reading Life post about Women’s History Month, Mindy wrote about the importance of personal stories when describing the history of a place. We make history every day, just in living our lives and being a part of our communities. These individual contributions can be hard to trace unless a person leaves a written record or participates in something like the Everett Public Library’s oral history projects. The farther back we go, the more difficult it can be to track down the stories of women and people in minority groups; these individuals were rarely granted space in written accounts of the time. One thing that improves the chances of learning more about the activities of these underrepresented individuals is if they were a part of a larger group. Whether we learn from the records that groups kept or the occasional newspaper coverage that larger projects may have attracted, the trail is a little bit stronger.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, women in what would become Washington State began to form groups and clubs for a variety of reasons. This was a reflection of a larger Women’s Club Movement within the country, but also the outcome of homegrown political movements and a reaction to some specific needs within communities. In Washington State many women were deeply involved in movements to gain the right to vote. When Washington was still a territory, women organized and won the right to vote in 1883; unfortunately they lost that right when Washington became a state in 1888. It eventually became the fifth state to grant women the vote in 1910 – 10 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. More on that amazing story can be found here.

A group of women are seated on the steps of an ornate Victorian front porch. The women are dressed in clothing typical of the late 1800s, with puffy upper sleeves that taper into form-fitting lower arm coverage, corseted waists, and long skirts. All of the women are wearing some style of hat either decorated with flowers, or ribbons.

The Everett Woman’s Book Club sits on the steps of the old Monte Cristo Hotel. They were responsible for founding Everett’s first library. Image from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room Collection.

In Everett and Snohomish County, socially and politically active women were also engaged in acts of community building. As the men in the area worked at the clearing of land and the building of mills, the women were involved with founding the first schools, hospitals, and libraries. Women made sure that the children of the community had access to healthy food, clothing, and shelter. They provided for the social activities of the growing communities in the county and invited newcomers in to participate in book clubs, garden clubs, and other special interest groups. The Northwest Room collection has records from a small assortment of Everett-based women’s clubs that can be made available by request in which you could read about their efforts.

A brown document box with a label that reads "Wash State Federation of Women's Clubs - Acc. No. 3436-015 - box 4 of 10."

Just one of the many boxes of records in the University of Washington Special Collections pertaining to the activities of club women in Washington State.

Though immensely important to their home communities, these clubs were not without flaws. Nationally the Women’s Club Movement was, more often than not, segregated by color lines and ethnic backgrounds; Washington State was no different in this regard. There was a Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and a Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations. As noted in my last post, one of the earliest presidents of the latter group lived in Everett. We can learn about the work of both groups by visiting the University of Washington’s Special Collections Department to view collections of their records (these are open to the public though it’s best to email ahead so that they can pull materials for you).

If you don’t have time to go be a historian for the day, there are resources in the Northwest Room and online that can provide you with information about the role of women in the Northwest – from indigenous life before contact, though today. Some of my favorites include the following:

As mentioned in Mindy’s earlier post, The Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project is one of our go-to resources.

Washington Women as Path Breakers by Mildred Tanner Andrews does a wonderful job of representing the many different cultural groups who have played a role in the development of this region.

HistoryLink.org is full of scholarly articles on a wide range of local history topics. On the topic of the history or organized women’s movements, I would recommend the ones on Nettie Asberry, Women’s Club Movement in Washington, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Western Washington and YWCA – Seattle-King County/Snohomish County.

A group of middle-aged and elderly Native American women who are seated in a cedar longhouse. The women are dressed in non-Native attire, some with simple head wraps.

Women at the Tulalip Reservation, seated in a newly-built long house. 1914, photographer J.A. Juleen. Image from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room collection.

Herstories Northwest: Women Upholding Native Traditions by Jay Miller talks about the important role women have played in preserving and sharing indigenous culture within the region.

Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920 by Sandra Haarsager delves deeply into the impact of women’s clubs on the region.

The History of Snohomish County, Washington edited by William Whitfield contains sections on the different women’s clubs in towns and cities in Snohomish County and provides a good point-in-time look at what the County was like in the early decades of non-Native settlement.

Bridging Two Centuries: Everett Women from the 1890s to World War I by retired Northwest Room Historian, Margaret Riddle is an excellent audiobook that provides local context for the topics discussed in this post. Unlike the other resources listed above, the library owns circulating copies of this resource so it can be enjoyed at home or in your car.

While the other books mentioned are reference copies that must stay in the library, we encourage you to come to the Northwest Room to work with them. The Northwest Room is staffed on weekdays from 10-5pm but the materials in the room can be accessed any time the library is open. If you are interested in accessing any of the Northwest Room’s archival materials, contact us to make an appointment and we would be happy to pull boxes for you.

Tell Me All About You

Organized Chaos
Modern Cat Lady
The Only Carol I Know: Life with a Throwback Name
I’d Rather Be Reading <insert heart eyes emoji>

In case it wasn’t obvious, those are some of the potential titles for my future memoir. It’ll most likely be about a life buried in unread books, struggling to sit up underneath a pile of cats, all while drinking all the coffee and becoming a world-class snacker.

In case you haven’t heard, this year we’ve organized a reading challenge with new prompts every month. All the details can be found on the library’s website. The March challenge is to read a biography or memoir. As it so happens, there are many memoirs and biographies being published all the time and we’ve chosen a bunch to add to the stacks. Get your library card ready to place a hold, because I’m bringing you some of the newest books making their way through cataloging right this very moment!

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman
Ted spent his childhood immersed in Jane Austenland. His mom was an Austen scholar, so it seemed normal to sing in an Anglican choir and live completely immersed in the fandom. Then he went off to college and at that time of life when most kids start to try new things, Ted decided to organize the first-ever UNC-Chapel Hill Jane Austen Summer Camp. Oh my crumpets, that sounds pretty amazing to me! Part memoir, part Jane Austen criticism, this short book is perfect for the Jane Austen fan who doesn’t have a lot of time to spare.

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down: Chasing Myself in the Race Against Time by Ida Keeling with Anita Diggs
What’s one thing you should know about Ida Keeling? She’s over 100 years old. What else should you know? She’s a world-record-holding runner who’s still lacing up her shoes and running. Miss Ida–as she’s known in her Bronx community–has lived through the Depression and the Civil Rights movement, was a single mom to four children, outlived two of her sons who were brutally murdered, and continued on–determined–through it all. For anyone looking for a story of perseverance and faith, you should give this one a read.

Too Afraid to Cry: Memoir of a Stolen Childhood by Ali Cobby Eckermann
Award-winning poet Ali Cobby Eckermann started out life stolen from her family. Born in Australia at the time of certain racist policies, Ali was one of many Aboriginal children forcibly taken from her birth family and “adopted.” Here is her very personal story of abuse and trauma, suffering as an outsider, and her efforts to reconcile with her Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha birth family and their Indigenous community. The book also holds up a lens to America and Canada’s own histories of coerced adoption of Native American children and violence inflicted on Indigenous communities. Ali’s story is peppered with poems that will also be suitable to check off April’s challenge of reading poetry–you’re welcome!

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: a Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Harris Wittels was a comedian, actor, writer, producer, musician, and is credited with coining the term “humblebrag,” that thing you do when it sounds like you’re being humble when actually you’re bragging. He was also struggling most of his life with drug addiction and in 2015 he died of a heroin overdose. In this book, his sister Stephanie will break your heart and make you cry just as much as she lifts you up and makes you laugh. This hopeful memoir of addiction, grief, and family is a good follow-up for those of you who read Beautiful Boy and Clean by David Sheff along with us last year.

She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions & Massively Crushed It by Hanna Jewell
If you’d rather not dive down into a full-length biography or memoir, let me steer you towards this celebration of kick-ass women you’ve either never heard of or didn’t know that much about. Not your standard collected biography of historically significant women, this one goes beyond the Susan B. Anthonys and Gloria Steinems to introduce readers to the lesser-known badass women of history. Told in an accessible, modern, and often snarky style, the text pairs brilliantly with the illustrations and stylized text that one might find in a modern magazine.

There are soooo many biographies and memoirs to choose from; these are just the brand-spanking newest of the new. Tell me in the comments which book you’re reading for this challenge and what you would title your memoir. And if you post a photo of yourself with your March challenge read and tag it #everettreads to enter our monthly drawing, let me know so I can go like your photo!

Shining a Light on Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month, a national celebration of the vital role women have played in American history. Historical narratives that focus almost exclusively on men tend to erase women’s diverse experiences and contributions. That’s true at the national and local level.

But of course, we know women have been here from the very beginning, shaping the history of our community through their work in all kinds of occupations—paper makers, labor leaders, entrepreneurs, club women, photographers, teachers, nurses, doctors, journalistspoliticians, aerospace workers, and beyond. Several of these individual women’s stories are documented on the Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project. Yet much more work needs to be done to fully weave women’s history and perspective into our understanding of local history.

Even in women’s history, we tend to celebrate those people in positions of prominence— women who make policies, headlines, and waves in our society. Their contributions to history are powerful, but I’m personally drawn to the stories about the humble lives of women who didn’t live in the spotlight. Although it’s harder to find their stories, they are compelling. Learning about the challenges and triumphs of “regular” people can shine a powerful light on the social and cultural life of a community.

Eva Jones Davis is one such woman in Everett history. Eva spent most of her 98 years in the Riverside neighborhood. Her family moved to Everett when she was about eight, and her father installed machinery at the paper mill in Lowell. When she arrived in Everett around 1891, it was a rough and tumble town site, just a hint of the industrial city she would watch it grow into one day.  Eva grew up and came of age along with the City of Everett.

In an oral history interview conducted at the Everett Public Library in 1977, Eva shared her perspective as an Everett pioneer who grew up and raised a family here.

In her interview, which you can read or listen to online, Eva recalls a lonely childhood. She lacked siblings and neighbors, and her only playmate was a young Native American girl, Gracie Spithill. Eva’s mother was a founding member of the Baptist Church in Everett, who also worked as a midwife and taught Eva to make home remedies. Eva recalled one particularly colorful incident in which she created a salve from Stockholm tar and Vaseline to save an injured boy’s leg from amputation!

Eva’s stories provide a fascinating glimpse into what daily domestic life, childhood, motherhood, and marriage looked like in Everett in the early 20th century.

Madame Luella Boyer

February is African American History Month. Libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations around the country observe this month as a way to recognize and honor the rich and challenging history of African Americans. In honor of this occasion, I am sharing the story of one of the most fascinating individuals I’ve come across in my work in the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library— Luella Ruth Brown Boyer Brent, aka Madame Boyer. Boyer was a successful African American businesswoman in early Everett at a time when few economic opportunities existed for African Americans or women.

1908 Everett City Directory listingMost of what I know about Madame Boyer I learned from local historian and genealogist, Margaret Summitt of the Mukilteo Historical Society. She painstakingly examined decades worth of genealogical records, newspapers, and city directories to reconstruct Boyer’s life story.

Luella was born in Iowa in 1868. Her father’s lineage traces back to the first slaves brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Her parents had moved to Iowa, a free state, from Missouri, a slave state, in 1864 while the nation was still engulfed in Civil War. Her father worked as a laborer and her mother worked as a domestic servant. Neither could read nor write, yet they worked to ensure their children could achieve more. Luella’s brother, Samuel, became an attorney, civil rights activist and NAACP leader in Des Moines, Iowa.

The available historical records only reveal bits and pieces of Luella’s life. We know that by 1900 she was married to John C. Boyer, a barber, and living in Lewiston, Idaho. They moved to Everett around 1902 and became part of the black community in this region. Around the time they moved to Everett, Luella began marketing herself and her professional services—hair care products—as “Madame Boyer.” She was likely inspired by Madame C.J. Walker, a self-made millionaire and wildly successful African American entrepreneur with a popular line of hair care products. (Walker was the Oprah Winfrey of her generation.) The couple adopted a daughter in 1903 and separated around 1905.

Even as a single mother, Boyer’s career flourished during these years. She promoted herself not just as a hair dresser, but also a dermatologist by 1908.

Boyer remarried in 1910 to Bertrand Brent at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Mr. Brent was white and employed as a waiter and a janitor at Everett Public Library.

Luella was a trailblazing entrepreneur during a time when few economic opportunities were available to black women. But she is also notable for her contributions to Everett’s cultural life and as a leader on issues of race and social change.

In May 1902, Madame Boyer and her husband went to a theater performance in Seattle by Bert Williams and George Walker, pioneering black entertainers. Boyer—who also made ends meet by working as a housekeeper for the Everett Opera House for $1 a night—is thought to have been a key player in bringing Williams and Walker to perform their landmark musical “In Dahomey” to Everett in 1905.

Receipt from 1905 for Luella Boyer

Madame Boyer’s social activism was well-documented in the Seattle Republican, an African American  newspaper. She participated in the newspaper’s Sunday Forums regarding social issues, submitted discussion questions, and addressed the forum twice. She offered one talk on racial discrimination and another on prostitution and gender inequality. She died from diabetic complications in 1912, at age 44.

Although we may know a lot about when, where, and what Boyer did in her life, I am more intrigued by all that we don’t know. What did she look like? (There are no known photos!) Why was she in Idaho and Washington at a time when 90% of the country’s African American population still lived in the South? What motivated her to move here, and what hardships did she endure? What inspired her business, civic, and familial decisions? What was it like to be an African American woman in Everett in the early 20th century, a rough-and-tumble mill town?

Related readings:

book coverAfrican American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000 by Quintard Taylor

In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990 by Quintard Taylor

The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District, from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era by Quintard Taylor

Seattle’s Black Victorians, 1852-1901 by Esther Hall Mumford

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Celebrating Black History Month: Mrs. Jennie Samuels

Black and white portrait photograph of an African American woman with a hat decorated with ribbons. She appears to be wearing a suit jacket and a string of pearls over a light-colored blouse.

Portrait of Mrs. J.B. “Jennie” Samuels taken from a cookbook published by the Colored Women’s Federation of Washington. Nettie J. Asberry papers. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries women in the United States began to organize around what later became known as the Women’s Club Movement. In cities, towns, and even rural areas women’s clubs formed to tackle the improvement of their communities in a number of different ways. Within Washington State there were so many clubs that by 1896 they had incorporated a statewide federation of women’s clubs in order to better coordinate efforts. While these clubs focused on unifying the efforts of women around common causes, the majority of them remained racially and ethnically segregated in those early years of organization.

Women who were excluded from the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs on the basis of race or ethnicity formed their own clubs and federations. One of the largest of these was the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations which was founded in 1917 and affiliated with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. The Federation went through a handful of name changes during the course of its operation, but for this post I will be sticking with the abbreviation WSFCWO. The WSFCWO’s members were subdivided into different committees that focused on the following topics: constitution, peace, fine arts, business, history, arts and crafts, interracial issues, education, legislation, scholarship, race history, health and temperance, mother home and child, women in industry, music, credentials, press and publicity, and programs.

Black and white portrait photograph of an African American woman in a white lacy high-necked shirt. Her hair is piled on the top of her head, to which are attached silk flowers.

Nannie Helen Burroughs, by Rotograph Co., New York City, 1909. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b46093.

One of the most prominent early members at the WSFCWO’s executive level was an Everett resident named Mrs. Jennie Samuels or Mrs. J.B. Samuels as she appeared in club records (she occasionally also appeared as Jane). Samuels was the founder of the Nannie Burroughs Study Club in Everett which was named for Nannie Helen Burroughs, an African American educator, orator, feminist, and civil rights activist. Burroughs had gained national attention by calling on Baptist women to combine their charitable works into one federated movement, providing an inspiration for African-American women’s clubs all over the country.

Jennie Samuels was clearly highly motivated to keep her Everett colleagues closely involved with the activities of the state’s Federated club women. At the 1920 WSFCWO conference, held at Everett High School and hosted by the Nannie Burroughs Study Club, attendees were welcomed with an address by Roland Hartley who at that time had already served as Everett’s Mayor and a member of the Washington State House of Representatives and would go on to be the Governor of Washington. After the welcoming ceremonies the attendees discussed the importance of civic works, different projects underway within the WSFCWO, the life of Frederick Douglass, and matters concerning child welfare. In meeting minutes the group remarked on how accommodating the high school was giving them use of the school’s kitchens in which they could prepare meals for attendees and access to all rooms and buildings on campus for meetings and lodging.

The following year, Jennie Samuels was elected the second president of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations. Her first order as president was to pursue the establishment of scholarships for children of color who wished to pursue higher education. Though she only held the post of President for four years, and the WSFCWO’s membership was largely based in Tacoma and Seattle, most of the biannual officer’s meetings during her involvement with the Federation were held in the Samuels’s home on the 2200 block of Wetmore Avenue. Club records paint a picture of the Samuels’s residence being a hub of activity not only for meetings, but also social gatherings among club women and their families from Everett and points all around the Puget Sound region. The proceedings of one of the WSFCWO’s annual conferences even included a celebration of John and Jennie’s 34th wedding anniversary as a conference after party at their Wetmore home.

When not busy with the activities of the WSFCWO, Mrs. Samuels continued to work at the local level with the Nannie Burroughs Study Club doing benevolent works within Everett. Much time was spent giving aid to those who were home-bound due to illness or old age, and looking after the needs of children living in lower income households. In addition to their charitable works, the Study Club focused heavily on the study of issues affecting African Americans in the United States – bringing in speakers, and discussing papers and other publications. By the 10th annual meeting it was noted that the Study Club was the only organization in Everett affiliated with the of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations, yet its members still frequently ranked at the top of Federation fundraising lists and a handful of its members were active in leadership roles.

In a cookbook published by the WSFCWO during her tenure as President, Mrs. Samuels was quoted as saying:

“Thank our God that we have something to do, whether we like it or not. Doing our duty brings out the best that is in us and will breed in us self-control, strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a score of virtues which idleness fails to give.”

 

Three lines of text written in cursive containing the names and statistics about the Samuels household. John Samuels, head of house - male, black, 46, married 23 years. born in kentucky, as were his parents. Jennie, wife, female, black 41, married for 23 years. Born in North Carolina, as were her parents. John Wesley - son, male, black, 18, single. Born in Minnesota.

Information from the 1910 United State Federal Census Records for the Samuels family. This record was accessed through Ancestry Library Edition 2.14.18 at 12:51 pm.

Though most of what we know about the life of Jennie Samuels comes from club records archived in the University of Washington Special Collections, some information about her family life can be gleaned from other sources such as newspapers, census records, military records, high school yearbooks, and Polk City Directories.

Mrs. Samuels was born on October 1, 1868 in Salem, North Carolina. Not much is known about her early life, but she remained in school until the end of her second year of high school. In 1890 she married John B. Samuels a laborer from Louisville, Kentucky who was literate but had left school in the 4th grade. The Samuels family briefly lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota where their only child John Wesley was born in September of 1891. The Samuels family moved to Everett around 1897 and by 1900 owned one of the first homes built on the 2200 block of Wetmore. John B. Samuels worked as a cook for one of the railroads when he first arrived, but soon switched to custodial work which would remain his profession until retirement. Jennie Samuels was a homemaker in addition to her numerous club activities.

Black and white portrait photograph of a young African American male in a dark suit and a high white collar.

Senior portrait of John Wesley Samuels from the 1912 Everett High School Nesika. – Everett Public Library Northwest Room Collections

John Wesley Samuels, known as Wesley or J. Wesley, graduated from Everett High School in 1912 where he had been active in the drama club and athletic club. He served overseas in World War I; before his honorable discharge he had reached the rank of Battalion Sergeant Major in the Army. In club records it was noted that he suffered from lingering health issues related to his military service. He returned to Everett, where he worked for many years as the secretary of the American Boiler and Iron Works at 700 Hewitt. He appears to have never married, and spent the remainder of his life sharing the Wetmore home with his parents.

After a long illness, Jennie Samuels passed away peacefully at her home on August 13, 1948. She had remained active in several clubs and her Methodist church until the very end of her life. Sadly J. Wesley Samuels died only six years later in a Veteran’s hospital in Vancouver, Washington; his father passed away seven months later at a hospital in Everett. The entire family is buried in a family plot in Evergreen Cemetery, not far from their beloved home and the now-bustling city center that Jennie Samuels devoted so much of her life to improving.

To learn more about the lives of people living in and around the Everett area, visit the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library and take advantage of the phenomenal records available in the University of Washington Special Collections. The University’s Digital collections are available online at any time, but many may not know that their non-digitized records are also mostly available to the public by appointment.

Keep an eye on A Reading Life for a second post in this series celebrating Black History Month from Northwest Room Historian Mindy Van Wingen.