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.

LGBTQ History in the Northwest Room

Black triangle logo with SNOMEC written inside using negative space. Yellow background. Text above the black triangle reads "Snohomish County Elections Committee for gays, lesbians, & transgendered."In honor of Pride Month, the Northwest Room has just launched its newest digital collection: the papers of the Snohomish County Elections Committee. The documents in this collection are part of a large donation that came into our care in 2015 via Charles Fay, one of the Committee’s co-founders.

Mr. Fay is a lifelong activist working within Snohomish County in the areas of LGBTQ rights and voter education.  In 1999 Mr. Fay and his colleagues Pat D’Willis and Jeff W. Phillips co-founded the Snohomish County Elections Committee (SNOMEC). This organization was inspired by a group in Seattle known similarly as the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC). The aim of both groups was to interview candidates participating in local elections in order to create ratings sheets that measured the level of knowledge each individual had regarding issues that affected their LGBTQ constituents (historical note: users of this collection will often see the acronym written as ‘GLBT’ because that was the most common format used during that time period).

While the scope of SNOMEC’s activities was tightly focused on the interviewing process and creation of ratings sheets, this work required an enormous amount of planning and oversight. The three co-founders worked equally as managers of an extensive network of passionate volunteers conducting training in the interviewing process, scheduling the candidates for interviews, and compiling and mailing out the review sheets. In addition to the mailings, these resources were made freely available to public libraries within Snohomish and Island Counties. For the most part both library systems readily displayed the rating sheets, though at a small number of individual branch locations SNOMEC met initial resistance and had to work with system management to have their materials distributed.

This SNOMEC collection provides readers with an interesting point-in-time view of a very transitional period of the LGBTQ rights movement. In the late 1990s the general public was becoming increasingly aware of the different issues facing their LGBTQ neighbors. In February of 1994, the Clinton Administration oversaw the implementation of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy aimed at gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel sparking national conversation. The HIV/AIDS epidemic, which heavily impacted LGBTQ communities around the nation in the 1980s, had only recently begun to slow with the introduction of life-prolonging treatments. The 1990s also saw the steady growth of youth-oriented LGBTQ groups in schools, as well as gay-straight alliances such as the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). In April of 1997 Ellen DeGeneres came out in a very public way on her sitcom, watched by an estimated 42 million viewers. Readers can see reflections of this gradual growth of public awareness in the range in candidate knowledge.

It is interesting to view these records with the knowledge we now have of the recent past. Some of the candidates included in these files are still politically active today, and one can see how their familiarity with certain topics has grown over time. In other cases one can see how some public figures have long been in touch with the needs of the LGBTQ community. In some cases we see individuals who were just starting to be exposed to some of the topics included in the survey and had not had a chance to form many opinions at all. Political experience also seems to play a part in the complexity and tone of the responses given in these interviews.

SNOMEC remained active until 2003, at which time a desire to hand over leadership of the Committee ran up against a lack of volunteers interested in leadership roles; the committee quietly finished its activities later that year. SEAMEC is still actively engaged in interviewing candidates and producing ratings sheets for voters. You can find an archive of their ratings and endorsements that dates back to 1977 on their website.

For more information about SNOMEC and the collections donated by Charles Fay, please contact the Northwest Room. We will be working on further processing this collection, as well as a separate collection of LGBTQ materials from another donor, in the following months.

Yellow text on black background that reads "feel free to copy & distribute this information.'

Music Review: 100 Years Ago Tomorrow

100 Years Ago Tomorrow Cover Art

Last year the Everett Public Library undertook a project to re-frame the conversation about the series of events that had become known as the Everett Massacre. It was the 100th anniversary of the most notorious chapter in Everett’s history, and there was a desire on all parts to move away from the usual recitation of ‘who shot first?’ speculations. Early on, members of a variety of historical organizations and City offices gathered together to brainstorm how to best approach the topic, and one name was repeatedly put forth: Jason Webley.

Jason, a hometown favorite known for his eclectic and often political mix of folk, punk, and alternative music, had recently captivated local audiences with his Margaret project. For those unfortunate enough to have missed that one, it was a night of music, and later a book, that was inspired by the chance discovery of a scrapbook in a dumpster in San Francisco. By all accounts, Jason Webley not only created music that night, he made magic out of local history; his rare talent seemed to be a natural fit to tell the story of the Everett Massacre.

As Jason freely admits, he had some reservations about undertaking the project, but thankfully for all he changed his mind. From there, he was able to assemble a remarkably-talented team of musicians and artists and began working with them on his concept. At least this is the part of the story most people know from his telling. What I think gets lost, but is incredibly important, is the amount of time and effort Jason himself spent poring over sources related to the Everett Massacre. Jason was a regular in the Northwest History Room, spending hours talking with David Dilgard and peppering him with questions. His curiosity about the topic was passionate, and seemingly unquenchable; you could tell that when he undertook a project it consumed him until it was completed. Emails requesting clarifications or more resources arrived at all times of the day, and from all over the globe (Jason seems to constantly be traveling). There was such a strong desire on the part of Jason, and by extension the other artists, to get everything just right that you couldn’t help but be incredibly excited to see the final result.

Needless to say, the final product met and exceeded expectations. You could feel the audience ‘getting it.’ All the nuances about what is an extremely complicated series of events. All the tragedy, and all the missed opportunities to avoid disaster. All the harm done in oversimplifying how we see historical figures, even those that can be clearly painted as villains. Hauntingly, the show also made easy ties to current events that were unfolding in November of 2016; the same fear, animosity, and sense of mistrust that inflamed passions in 1916 seemed to be permeating the political climate 100 years later. The audience was rapt and quick to respond. At the end of the night the overwhelming question was: did anyone record this?

Well, as it turns out, yes and no. At the time, some video of the event was uploaded to YouTube, but nobody had made a professional recording. Thankfully, due to the high-level of interest, Jason and his colleagues decided to meet up and record their pieces in studio and to produce the album via an Indiegogo campaign. The project was fully funded, with all proceeds going to the ACLU. I’m happy to say that we now have a handful of copies available for check out so that those who were there could relive the event, and those who missed it can take part in their own way. Listeners to this powerful collection of history and protest in musical form will not be disappointed. Place your holds now!

For a preview, and a little behind the story information about the project, check out Jason Webley’s intro video for the project.

“Hewitt and Wetmore 1916,” a Poem by Constance Schultz

Hewitt Avenue

In honor of the centennial of a dark chapter in local history that became known as the Everett Massacre, the Everett Public Library called on the community to create art. While most of the submissions that arrived were in visual art forms, some wonderful writing was also sent to us. In preparation for this weekend’s events, A Reading Life would like to share one of those pieces.

“Hewitt and Wetmore 1916,” by Constance Schultz

Beverly Park an area
for shame on
our town

The gauntlet and swirl of
injustice
the blood flowing

An attempt to silence
that which cannot stand calm
The past and future
Calista and Verona
The ships that carried
the backup for the Wobblies

Floated in Everett harbor
waiting to puncture the
pressure

Oh Everett
civil yet sweet
bursting with unions

of one type
or another
balancing power

Inside the Northwest History Room: Yearbooks

1924 Nesika page

Click to see detail

Through this blog I’ve had a chance to talk about a couple of the resources that get heavily used in the Northwest History Room (namely the Polk City directories and the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps). While there are many different areas of our collection that see frequent use, the Polks and Sanborns are joined by our yearbook collection to make up our ‘Big Three’ of local history reference materials. This year we began the massive task of digitizing our collection with the aim of getting them all online. So far we’ve received scans of all of our Everett High School Nesikas; in 2015 we’re hoping to do the same with the Cascade High School Vista. Now comes the fun but time-consuming work of uploading and describing all those pages of history in our database, but I’m not here to bore you with that!

1916 yearbook page

Click to see detail

So why are the yearbooks so important to us and the work that we do? Mainly because they’re very important to the people who contact us. Whether it’s a walk-in to our room or a phone call from overseas, people seek scans from our yearbooks for a variety of reasons. Most people are doing genealogical research; the Nesika goes back to 1909, so there are a few generations of Everett residents contained within them. In some circumstances yearbook photos are actually acceptable forms of identification, so we get individuals and family members seeking them for a variety of reasons. One afternoon I helped a walk-in researcher locate photos of their birth mom whose face they had never seen.

Aside from being of interest for personal or nostalgic reasons, our yearbook collection tells us a lot of general information about Everett’s history as it grows and adapts to changes in local and national society. I’ve only just begun working through our scans but from the beginning in 1909 to the farthest I’ve reached, 1930, I’ve seen the girls’ hair shorten along with the length of their athletic costumes. Also striking to see is the rapidly increasing participation of females in different school sports and the addition of new events like field hockey and swimming. In the boys’ athletics one can watch the rise of the legendary Enoch Bagshaw era of Everett High School football, which led to a string of championships (opens an MP3 of our Bagshaw podcast).1922 Girls Hockey team

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Some of the history documented in these yearbooks can be sad or uncomfortable. The budding Nesika series goes ominously silent in 1917 and doesn’t resume until 1919, with that year’s volume including a memorial for the students and alums who lost their lives in the First World War. Other pages in 1919 display long lists of those who served and returned. In some volumes there are pages featuring minstrel show lineups, racially and ethnically insensitive jokes, and advertisements with black-face caricatures. The jarring nature of how casual and deeply ingrained racism was during those decades helps remind us of where we’ve come from as a society and how to continue moving forward.

In addition to reading between the lines to glean cultural information from the yearbook collection, we also get to learn about Everett’s commerce and industry. Starting in the 1920s the yearbook staff sold advertising slots to local businesses. Through these ads, many repeated from year to year, one can get a picture of what businesses were common. Also present are ads from many of the major employers in the area such as Sumner Iron Works, local paper and timber mills, and packing companies presumably to entice recent graduates to join the ranks of the working class.

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Whether it’s family information, social context, or just enjoying some of the vintage artwork, you can find out all kinds of things by paging through our yearbooks. We hope that our future online collection will make this personal connection with local history more easily established for those near and far. In the meantime, scans are available at any time by request, or can be viewed at the Northwest History Room (the hard copies of the yearbooks are there as well, and are fun to look through). I will also be featuring interesting tidbits I come across during this project on our Northwest History Room tumblr – be sure to keep an eye out.

Inside the Northwest History Room: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn 1914 title pageHere in the Northwest History Room of the Everett Public Library, we get frequent visitors looking into the history of buildings and land usage. One of the first resources we point people to is our collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. We have the set of 1914 maps, and a copy of the 1914 maps that was updated in 1955 to show the present state of the land. These dates come in handy for people who own older non-compliant structures because they can be grandfathered in if they predate 1955.

Aside from being able to check if your porch or outbuilding might be able to be grandfathered in, a lot can be gleaned from comparing the 1914 and 1955 maps. For example, in these two photos, you can see how the old Everett Flour Mill was gradually replaced by the sprawling Scott Paper Co. Mill (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Over time, this expansion meant altering the natural landscape by filling in some of the tidelands and building over them on piers. Roads and rails were altered to make way.

These two photos show the expansion of residential buildings that happened at 26th and Rainier. One can see how some buildings changed use, for example going from being a dwelling (‘D’) to being a shed, or gained or lost outbuildings. Some houses, surprisingly, remained mostly the same over the course of those 41 intervening years (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Lastly we have the key that helps us interpret all the colors and symbols used in the maps. This provides us with a wealth of information about the construction of the buildings, from the materials used on the exterior walls, to the types of windows and skylights present, to the appearance of the chimneys. This is really useful for people who are looking to restore their homes to an earlier appearance, or for people who are trying to discover what a demolished building looked like when no pictures exist (click image to enlarge).

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps key

 

I invite you to come down to the Northwest History Room at Everett Public Library’s Main Library to see what you can find out about your home, or any other Everett property you might be curious about – either David or I would be happy to show you how to use our map collection.