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.