Treasure! Pirates! Danger! Giant Squid!

I would never in a million years do this: dive to the depths of the ocean in search of shipwrecks; then, once found, weave through the wreckage to find clues as to why it sunk. I’ve seen enough stuff on TV and in the movies to know it’s no picnic under the waves. And when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong. Plus, there are all those giant squid watching you with their bowling-ball sized eyes. I know this from Discovery Channel specials I should never have watched.

Luckily, someone else has done all the diving, researching and dodging giant squid for me while searching for a long-lost pirate ship, the Golden Fleece. And Robert Kurson has written all about it in Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship in which he chronicles the treasure hunt by diving superstars John Mattera and John Chatterton.

Mattera and Chatterton scuttle their plans for a major dive after they are contacted by a world-renown and very successful treasure hunter (we’ll call him Mr. Smarty-pants) who is obsessed with finding the lost ship of John Bannister, pirate extraordinaire. The divers will get a cut of what they find, but there is a short window of opportunity to find it. The Dominican Republic is on the verge of signing the UNESCO international treaty that would put a stop to private shipwreck hunting in their waters.

The Golden Fleece is the holy grail of pirate shipwrecks. It sunk in June of 1686 when Bannister and his crew fought a two-day battle with two British warships. England had been embarrassed many times by Bannister and they were determined to put an end to his pirate shenanigans. But Bannister wasn’t captured and the Royal Navy ships limped back to England, further adding to Bannister’s swashbuckling reputation.

The only thing is, the two divers agree to search only where Mr. Smarty-pants says the shipwreck of the Golden Fleece must be. So, with their state of the art equipment and two other experts on board, they comb the waters off the white sandy beaches of Cayo Levantado for months and months and months. They start running out of time and money and realize they’re never going to find the wreckage if they continue to do what Mr. Smarty-pants tells them to do. Mattera decides to strikes out on his own and uncovers clues that point in another direction. He finds these clues IN A LIBRARY(!!) and they are able to pinpoint where the wreckage lies.

This is a choppy but satisfying ride of a book. You don’t have to be a good swimmer to enjoy it and you may even find yourself holding your breath in a couple of places. And those giant squid? Turns out, they’re only in the really, really deep ocean. Can you blame me for reading between the bubbles?

Northland

Of the many great things about visiting the library, one of my favorites is being able to browse the collection. You can throw caution to the wind and select a title based on whimsical things like the look of a cover, an interesting title or even the number of pages. Blame it on the whole ‘being a librarian thing’ but I usually like to do a bit of research on a title before borrowing it. Every so often, however, I succumb and just can’t resist a title I see while out in the stacks. Happily, a recent impulse borrow introduced me to a really great book.

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox initially drew me in with its interesting cover. The fact that I’m also a sucker for borders, weird I know, and partial to the northern climes, sealed the deal.

The basis of the book is Fox’s three year journey traveling along the U.S. and Canadian border from Maine to Washington. But this work isn’t a simple travelogue (even though the characters and incidents he encounters would be worth reading about on their own). Instead, the author intersperses his travel experiences with the surprisingly contentious history of the border as well as contemporary issues unique to each northern region that he visits. In this way, Fox brings out a lot of intriguing and vital facts about this often forgotten border that you may not know:

12 % of Americans live 100 miles from the border, 90% of Canadians do.

A 2010 Congressional Research services report stated that U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains “operational control” over just 69 miles of the 3,987 mile border.

The border cuts the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian reservation, Niagara Falls and the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in two.

In the end, however, the human element is what makes this book so worthwhile. Whether visiting with lodge owners in Maine, bulk carrier captains on the Great Lakes, fishing guides and adventurers in Northern Minnesota, members of the Sioux nation protesting the XL TransCanada pipeline in North Dakota, or the leader of a ‘constitutional militia’ in Idaho, Fox captures the unique feel of sharing a border and the experiences of those living in the Northlands.

Empire’s Edge

Historical borders, and the walls that often accompany them, have always been fascinating to me. They pose so many interesting questions: Why were they built?  What was their purpose?  And what was it like to live along them? Plus, for those of us who like order and method, they always look pretty cool on a map. A seemingly clean and simple separation of different entities. Of course, as with most things, when you look a little closer it is way more complicated than that.

One of my favorite historical boundaries is Hadrian’s Wall, built during the Roman occupation of Britain and situated in the borderlands between present day England and Scotland. Chock it up to reading a lot of Rosemary Sutcliff in my youth, but I’ve always found Roman Britain fascinating and the idea of its northern boundary wall is just one of its intriguing mysteries. While you might think that all has been said and done concerning Hadrian’s Wall, nothing could be further from the truth. Three recent books about the wall, and Roman Britain, prove the point.

Hadrian’s Wall by Adrian Goldsworthy

If you fear lengthy historical tomes, this is the book for you. Clocking in at a mere 169 pages, plus illustrations, this is a quick and enlightening read. While this work is loosely chronological, the main emphasis is on social history: trying to discover the motives, experiences and daily life of those who lived and worked on the wall. While there is very little that survives from the written historical record concerning the Wall there is a lot of excellent archaeological evidence. One example is the dig site at the Roman auxiliary fort of Vindolanda. In addition to extensive structural remains there are actual letters, written on wooden leaf tablets, which have been preserved in the muddy soil. It is with evidence such as this that the author is able to make some credible guesses as to what life was actually like at the fort and beyond. While this book reveals that there is a lot that is unknown about Hadrian’s Wall, that just adds to the mystery.

The Edge of the Empire: A Journey to Britannia by Bronwen Riley

This creative and entertaining work gives you the closest thing to a travel guide for the Roman Empire, circa 130 C.E., that you will come across. Riley admits up front that while grounded in the historical facts we have, many of the events and descriptions she provides are along the lines of an educated guess. That does not dissuade her from giving the reader a grounds eye view of Sextus Julius Serverus’s journey from Rome to Hadrian’s Wall to assume his post as the Governor of Britannia. While you might think such a high status person would have a smooth and luxurious trip, there are perils and indignities aplenty. Shipboard life is far from ideal: camping out on the deck for the entire trip with no restroom facilities does not make for happy passengers. In addition, the inns and taverns offer dubious food and the bedding can be crawling with many unwanted guests. But hey, the roads are good and there is almost always a bathhouse around. The author’s creativity and attention to detail make you feel like you are actually on the road with Severus. Admittedly, a dubious honor at times but never boring.

Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins

One of the undeniable facts about Roman Britain, and Ancient Rome in general, is that only a small fraction of the written sources and physical evidence survives to this day. While this is frustrating, it also produces endless speculation and a sense of mystery that is quite irresistible. Part travelogue and part analysis of this sense of mystery, Higgins’ work is as much about how we create the past as it is about the physical remains of Roman Britain. Setting out in a VW Camper van over the course of several years, she visits both the major and minor archeological sites of Roman Britain. While at times this is only a few stones and, lucky day, possibly an inscription, they still generate wonder and enthusiasm among historians and the local population. Long after the Romans have left, people find their lives entwined with an imagined past. While walking along Hadrian’s Wall the author encounters Marcus Aufidius Macimus:

He had borrowed the name of a real Roman, who had dedicated alters at Bath. When in civvies he was Steve Richardson, from Newcastle: he was he said, ‘a full-time Roman centurion.’ The souvenir stall was just for the summer; usually, he said, his work was school visits and events at archaeological sites and museums. At primary schools, he and his wife Lesley kitted out the children in uniforms and then ‘I take them out on drills.’

With many examples such as this, both current and historical, Higgins maps out the remains of Roman Britain as cultural artifacts that are very much alive.

For the Love of Money

Maybe this is just plain old sexist, but when I hear about women who murder my first thought is: the guy had to have done something to deserve it. The myth of women being natural nurturers and protectors has gone by the wayside as we read about women killing their own children or committing ‘crimes of passion’ against lovers.  Even now when I hear about a female killer I wince, a knee-jerk reaction as my brain hisses “A woman? She’s supposed to be the protector of children.” But the shock has worn off as I realize humans, male or female, are capable of horrendous deeds.

This came into focus as I read the true crime work Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunnes, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter.

Belle Gunness immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1881 and married Mads Sorensen in 1884. They opened up a candy store but then fell on hard times. The store burned down and investigators were a little suspicious of the cause, but Belle and Mads collected the insurance money. They produced two children who later died in infancy. That was not unusual in those days, with the infant mortality rate being high. Belle collected insurance money on the children (which set off alarm bells in my head.)

Next Mads died from heart failure. Or should I say “heart failure??” Strychnine was found in his system and his family wanted an inquest into his death, but Belle got lucky because he was previously diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Interestingly Mads happened to die on the only day his two insurance policies overlapped and Belle was left with a healthy chunk of cash. Belle bought a 42-acre farm with the money.

How do I describe Belle Gunness without sounding superficial? Maybe because she was a monster she automatically comes off as ugly. She was a big woman, close to 300 pounds, and had a sour face that in today’s parlance would be considered RBF. She was abrasive and unfriendly to townspeople.

She met and married Peter Gunness and his infant daughter mysteriously died. Peter followed shortly after by being brained to death by a meat grinder that fell off a shelf in the kitchen. Funny how a meat grinder wound looks an awful lot like a hatchet wound. But I digress. The coroner who inspected the body of Peter Gunness was suspicious that foul play was involved. Many people were suspicious of Belle. But this was 1908 and she was considered a poor widow trying to make a living off the land and raise her children.

I think I might be the only person alive who didn’t know they had lovelorn ads in newspapers back then. It was the 1908 version of Tinder but instead of swiping left or right, you wrote looking for someone to share your life with and work on a farm. Replies took six weeks. Slowest dating service ever. Belle was looking for a man to sell all his earthly goods, liquidate his assets and move to Belle’s Indiana farm.

Many men thought they had hit the jackpot and sold everything only to arrive at Belle’s and never be seen again. Ray Lamphere, Belle’s farm hand, wondered about the room stacked with steamer trunks and piles of men’s coats. Belle explained that they were left behind and that she would send them on to their owners. I don’t think Ray was an idiot. He had a room and a job at Belle’s. He just didn’t question her.

Andrew Hegelein wanted a fresh start and sold his belongings to be with Belle. He arrived and was never seen again… But Belle’s luck was beginning to run out. Hegelein’s brothers arrived and began searching for their missing sibling, poking around and asking questions about Belle.

One evening in April 1908, Belle’s farmhouse burned to the ground. After the smoldering ruins were cleared, four bodies were found. 3 were children and the adult female was believed to be Belle. Except ‘Belle’s’ head was missing. If the tragedy of a burned home and discovered bodies wasn’t bad enough, Belle’s land began to give up its ghosts. Her paramours were unearthed from their shallow graves.

In all, the bodies and bones of 40 men and children were found. Ray Lamphere was arrested and convicted of arson but not the murders. Before he died in prison not long after the verdict, he confessed that Belle herself had burned down her farmhouse and killed her children. But the headless body was not hers. He said Belle skipped town. It was never known just whose headless body was found in that house with three children huddled around it.

Over the years there were Belle Gunness sightings. People saw her board a train wearing a black veil. Belle sightings came from many states. People were positive it was the butcheress. The police didn’t put much effort into investigating the sightings. They claimed the body from the fire was Belle Gunness, even though the body was shorter and weighed less. Years later, a woman in California killed several men by poisoning them. It was said she was Belle Gunness: thinner and aged but evidently still seeking big insurance payouts. People were divided about whether she actually was the Norwegian murderess. Belle’s whereabouts and death went unconfirmed.

Death comes in every shape and size. It can be innocent and darkly alluring. It can be a sweet ad placed in a newspaper looking for love or at the very least, companionship. There’s no judgement here on how you find love, whether it be from an app or from the back of a newspaper or during last call in a poorly lit bar. But beware the P.S. “Come prepared to stay forever.”

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.

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.