Self-Help Activists:
The Seattle Branches of the Unemployed Citizen’s League


The UCL branches of Seattle 1931-1933. View UCL Seattle Branches in a larger map

by Summer Kelly

The Great Depression greatly affected the United States and the entire industrialized world. The steep economic decline left many in Washington State without jobs and without savings. 1

In the summer of 1931 a group of Seattle residents organized to demand that government officials create jobs and increase relief assistance to unemployed. They also established cooperative self-help enterprises, declaring that the unemployed would produce some of what they needed on their own. They called their organization the Unemployed Citizens League (UCL) and for the next two years, until New Deal programs took effect, the UCL would be major force in Seattle and beyond.

On the evening of Friday, July 23, 1931, jobless West Seattleites gathered at the Olympic Heights community clubhouse located at 35 th Southwest and West Kenyon Street and formed the first branch of the Unemployed Citizen’s League (U.C.L.). 2 The purpose of the meeting was to call upon authorities to begin development of public works, demanding a total expenditure of no less then $1 million in wages. 3 At the second meeting of the Olympic Heights U.C.L. one week later, the idea to spread the league to other sections of the city was brought up, and shortly thereafter the Admiral Way U.C.L. was developed on August 6, 1931. 4

Over the next few months, UCL branches sprang up across the city; and beyond, in Tacoma, Bellingham, Spokane. Close to two dozen branches operated on a regular basis in Seattle neighborhoods, involving thousands of men and women, many of whom worked in the cooperative enterprises housed in each branch headquarters.

As more U.C.L. branches sprouted up around Seattle, the need for a central federation that would represent the entire league became apparent. The initial meeting of the federation went on record for the following minimum program:

  • A $1 million wage fund in the city budget to be used immediately for public improvements
  • The establishment of a $500,000 wage fund by the county for the same purpose and another $500,000 for direct relief for needy residents
  • All work done directly by the city with no interventions by contractors, and work should be rotated fairly among all resident unemployed who register for that purpose
  • A city scale of no less than $4.50 per day to be paid for all common labor
  • No eviction of unemployed for failure to pay taxes, assessments and back rent
  • School children to be provided when needed with adequate food by the school board 5

Together, the branches of the U.C.L. fought for economic and social justice. They planted, harvested and distributed food through their commissaries. When the county commissioners attempted to implement a paid county manager to take over the commissaries, U.C.L. members came together to reject their attempt at doing so. Overall, the individual contributions of each branch strengthened the movement and made it known they were a force to be reckoned with. With the central federation established and membership increasing, the Unemployed Citizen’s League of Seattle was well on its way to becoming the nation’s premiere model for similar organization.

Below is information on the more active branches, mostly derived from the Vanguard, a weekly newspaper which served as the voice of the Unemployed Citizens League until the newspaper renamed itself the Unemployed Citizen. Click on the map above to see the precise locations. And see UCL Branch Notes for further information about these and some additional branches.

North Seattle Branches

NORTH BALLARD

Meeting location: Icelandic Parrish Hall, NW 77 th St. & 25 th Ave. NW, Fridays at 8PM. Chairman: C.J. Smith 30

September 1932:

-Canned 1800 pounds of strawberries, 450 pounds of pears, 1350 pounds of peaches, 1800 pounds of prunes, 450 pounds of sauerkraut, with a cannery under construction 31

November 1932:

-Refused to continue its fuel operations until the county central garage repaired the trucks, which the local had donated for this specific work 32

January 1933:

-Condemned the sale of the home of Mrs. Millie Garrison for her lack of $32 ground rent 33

[more about this branch]

SOUTH BALLARD

Meeting location: Ballard Presbyterian Church, NW Market St. & 17 th Ave. NW, Fridays at 8PM. Chairman: E.F. Smeltzer 34

 September 1932:

-Readmitted to the central federation as no disruptive behavior had been documented, which had previously been the basis for expulsion 35

-Refused to turn over white cards to the county district manager; in response an army of police and motorcycle cops arrived to supervise the moving of groceries into the Salmon Bay School, which the county intended to use as a relief station for all of Ballard 36

October 1932:

-Asked for assistance in preventing a campaign of light shut-offs by City Light; a delegate reported that a city employee stated 56 homes were on the list for stoppage 37

[more about this branch]

PHINNEY-GREENWOOD

February 1932:

-Disliked the stifling atmosphere of the public school building where they had been holding meetings; a move to a nearby Lutheran church allowed them to fully air their views 51

September 1932:

-Retrieved 4 ½ tons of peaches from the Yakima Valley which had been rotting on the tree 52

-Reported that the county had withdrawn trucks for hauling wood, leaving a large amount of cords in the woods while people needed fuel 53

November 1932:

-Reported that families of five were expected to make due with a ration of 1 ½ pounds of butter per week while other food rations had been cut proportionately as well 54

[more about this branch]

GREEN LAKE

Song: A U.C.L. Ballad, by J.C. Dean

Oh, yes, I am a U.C.L. and glory in the name,

And find that it is better far than robbery or skin game.

I’d tried so hard to get a job I’d walked from place to place,

But nothing but starvation seemed to stare me in the face.

Till, presto, came the U.C.L., it surely filled the bill,

This piece of luck as last I struck, I’m sticking to it still.

O yes, I am a U.C.L.

And will be till I die.

I’ll sing and yell for U.C.L.

For a U.C.L. am I.

We go and get our daily dole, and work two days a week,

And every man does what he can to earn the food we eat.

We have our little squabbles and we have our kicks and knocks,

But well we know, it must be so, since we are on the rocks.

The bosses call us Radicals and tell us where to go,

But on election day—when WE will say—who’s going to run the show! 59

 

November 1932:

-Had a members’ book pulled for refusal to work for his groceries but after protesting vigorously, the county manager restored it and gave him his supplies 60

-Subscribed for 50 copies of the Unemployed Citizen 61

December 1932:

-“Who Cuts the Wood?” by Green Lake member K.O. Lynch

Does your conscience ever hurt you,

When you’re sitting safe inside,

With the fire warm and cheerful,

And your hunger satisfied?

When you look out of the window,

And you see the rain and storm,

You must think of men out working,

Cutting wood to keep you warm.

Does your conscience ever hurt you?

Well you know darn well it should,

When you see the truck is leaving,

With the men who cut the wood.

Then you grab your bag of fodder,

And you sneak back to your hut,

There to see the fire burning,

With the wood you did not cut.

You don’t have to be a slacker,

You could just as well come through,

Loafing round to talk depression,

Doesn’t bring the wood to you.

Sitting ‘round and always beefing,

Doesn’t do you any good.

If you’d keep the home fires burning,

You must go and cut the wood. 61

 

[more about this branch]

 UNIVERSITY

March 1932:

-Reported several houses donated for the use rent-free to families facing eviction 62

November 1932:

-Reported that meat issued to members through the county commissary delivered by a University Meat Co. truck was spoiled 63

 [more about this branch]

FREMONT

August 1932:

-Began circulation of The Rapier, a live sheet that built sentiment for the local, declaring, “The Rapier has a clean sharp thrust—fakers keep away or you will get stuck” 64

October 1932:

-Former commissary manager faced charges of stealing food from the depot and selling it to a restaurant operator, causing him to be repudiated by the central federation as well as a large percentage of the membership 65

December 1932:

-Delivered 24 cords of wood to its own lot with its own trucks using donated gas, which had been the first time they were able to do so in two months 66

[more about this branch]

WALLINGFORD

Meeting location: Burke Ave. N & N 37 th St. 67

October 1932:

-Harvested beans, peas, carrots, young onions, potatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins for distribution in the commissary 68

-Member J.J. Rohan discovered that Washington law did not empower the county commissioners to force the unemployed and needy citizens to work before they were given food relief 69

December 1932:

-Hosted a free New Year’s Eve party which included a vaudeville performance, a dance, and a free meal 70

[more about this branch]

 

Central Seattle Branches

CAPITOL HILL

March 1932:

-Created a committee in charge of making a survey of available areas of tillable land which may be used for planting vegetables; an account of the committee’s findings were reported to the central federation for the use of other branches 55

-Secured four houses with 20 rooms to be used rent-free by its members 56

October 1932:

-450 pounds of meat spoiled in the commissary due to the paid county manager over-ordering without finding refrigeration facilities prior 57

February 1933:

-Eleven members freed after a hearing on a charge of conspiracy to steal food from the commissary collapsed due to lack of evidence 58

[more about this branch]

 INTERBAY

October 1932:

-Members protest the appointment of their former relief chairman as the paid commissary manager; when said person joined the league, he was a destitute widower with four small children; members assisted him in acquiring a house, furniture, and cared for his children while they were sick 71

-Reported lack of gas for hauling wood as well as insufficient funds to pay the wages for the drivers of the Truck Haulers’ Association 72

November 1932:

-Voted for a full slate of new officers and adopted the following slogan:

One for all—All for one

The Company Union is on the run,

United we stand—Divided we Fall.

Loyalty and Self-help will save us all. 73

[more about this branch]

ATLANTIC STREET

August 1932:

-Urged other U.C.L. branches to refuse to send their kids to school in the fall unless the county agreed to appropriate $100,000 for shoes and $100,000 for clothes due to the fact that 90% of the children of the unemployed were lacking in proper apparel, causing their health to suffer; if the parents participated in the strike it would emphasize the seriousness of the situation 47

November 1932:

-Reported 75 cords of wood needing to be hauled in, however, the county would only allow the use of their trucks if they were given control of the distribution 48

December 1932:

-Member proposed to begin plans for a May Day celebration although it was several months away 49

[more about this branch]

 

West and South Seattle Branches

 

OLYMPIC HEIGHTS

Meeting location: Olympic Heights Community Clubhouse, 35 th SW & W Kenyon St., Fridays at 8PM 6

March 1932:

- Established a committee to look for land for gardening purposes 7

December 1932:

-Recorded a large quantity and variety of food through the commissaries 8

-Reported that paid county managers discriminated against loyal U.C.L. members in the distribution of wood while county minions got plenty 9

February 1933:

-Refused to send members out with trucks of former garbage contractors for wood hauling; believed that trucks that belonged to unemployed members should be used instead 10

[more about this branch]

ADMIRAL WAY

Meeting location: St. John’s Parish, California Ave. SW & SW Hanford St., Fridays at 8PM 11 Chairman: C.W. Gilbreath

September 1932:

-A resolution from Admiral Way called for a mass demonstration at the County-City Building to oppose the taking over of the commissaries by paid county managers was adopted and the Central Executive Committee was instructed to bring in a plan of action. A motion to demand of the county not less then three days work per week, six hours per day, at not less than $4.50 per day to be given to the unemployed was referred to the Central Executive Committee to consider along with the plan 12

-Contrary to reports in the newspapers, Admiral way had not accepted a paid county manager unconditionally 13

[more about this branch]

 THE JUNCTION

Meeting location: Carpenter’s Hall, 4441 California Ave. SW, Thursdays at 8PM. Secretary: Dorothy Nelson 14

July/August 1932:

-Between July 17 and August 27, over 41,760 pounds of apples, pears, tomatoes, potatoes, plums, cherries, apricots, grapes, watermelons, and other farm products were brought in at a cost to the county in gas of $1.28 per ton 15

September 1932:

-Dances held at Gatewood Hall every Friday and Saturday with tickets costing 15 cents for men and 10 cents for ladies and proceeds going to the locals relief fund 16

December 1932:

-Reported that completed membership applications disappeared and when asked, the paid commissary worker admitted to having thrown them away 17

[more about this branch]

WHITE CENTER

Meeting location: I.O.O.F. Hall, 16 th Ave. SW & SW Roxbury St., Fridays at 8PM. Chairman: A. Winton 22

February 1932:

-Installed a shoe shop and barber shop with two chairs at the rear of the commissary with two barbers on duty in the day and one in the evening; 60 men assigned to go to the woods everyday in two wood crews; 50 women signed up in the auxiliary and made 21 winter quilts 23

June 1932:

-Secured a 500 foot site for mill purposes as well as a saw mill; reported 20 acres of potatoes, peas, beans, and other vegetables in addition to the onions and radishes already brought in 24

September 1932:

-Two carloads of police and private detectives arrived with a representative of the county to take over the commissary; a large amount of members voted to withdraw all unemployed workers from the commissary if a paid manager was implemented 25

[more about this branch]

GATEWOOD

Meeting location: Gatewood Hall, 7118 California Ave. SW, Fridays at 8PM. Chairman: F.T. Romsey 18

Song: “You Can Hear Us Marching,” by William Morris

In our poverty and toil,

Looking out upon the world,

We can see the gathering armies of the cause,

And we feel ourselves a part of a new resistless power,

That shall sweep away injustice and its laws.

 

Tramp, tramp, tramp you hear us marching,

Millions now are on the way,

And our army ne’er shall pause,

Till the Right to Live be ours,

And the sun has risen on a better day.

 

September 1932:

-Appointed members Rhodes, Singleton and Wick as the industrial board whom took a truck over to Yakima to get rotting fruit 19

 October 1932:

-Wood operations seriously interfered with for lack of oil and truck repairs; the lack of a 50-cent truck bearing, which had been on requisition from the county for two weeks, was the issue 20

-The Gatewood Women’s Auxiliary asked that women in that locality help them prepare for a pre-Christmas sale by contributing new pieces of silk, ribbon, and cretonne to be made up into saleable articles 21

[more about this branch]

YOUNGSTOWN

Meeting location: Mayflower Congressional Church, SW Andover St. & 23 rd Ave. SW, Fridays at 8PM. Chairman: A.R. Monaghan 26

 February 1932:

-Pioneered cooperative farming by securing two ten acre lots of land on the outskirts of the city; the land was obtained rent-free and all produce turned into the local commissary for distribution to needy families 27

November 1932:

-Members who spent time on Whidbey Island cutting wood reported that the conditions there were unbearable and the food was very poor; their compensation for two weeks work was no more than one cord of wood 28

April 1933:

-Action committee secretary reported an eviction case involving a sick woman who was mistreated by her landlord; the landlord gained access to the house through the coal chute 29

[more about this branch]

COLUMBIA

Meeting location: Rainier Congressional Church, 3902 S Ferdinand St., Tuesdays at 8PM . Chairman: A.M. Hicks 38

February 1932:

-Made and distributed 60 quilts which were produced through the cooperative sewing room 39

April 1932:

-Secured 25 acres of land for planting as well as several houses and apartments for families facing eviction 40

March 1933:

-Reported success for securing vouchers for a sick woman; delegate given assurance that men unable to work would not be denied resources 41

[more about this branch]

GEORGETOWN

Meeting location: Hamilton’s Hall, 12 th Ave. S & S Vale St., Tuesdays at 8PM. Secretary: C.O. Paul 42

September 1932:

-Commissary workers quit in protest of the implementation of a paid county worker after the commissioner reneged on his promise to remove the man in question 43

 October 1932:

-Members refused to assist the paid manager in operating the commissary, forcing it to be open only one hour per day 44

November 1932:

-Refused to cut wood or have any association with the paid county set-up 45

-Reported many light and water shutoffs during the last week of November 46

-Established an educational committee, which planned to launch a class in economics 50

[more about this branch]

 

Copyright (c) 2009, Summer Kelly
HSTAA 353 Fall 2009

 

 

NOTES

1 United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compensation from before World War I through the Great Depression. Washington, DC: GPO, 2003.

2 “Jobless Citizens Organize,” The Vanguard, August 1931, p. 1.

3 “Jobless Citizens Organize,” The Vanguard, August 1931, p. 1.

4 “Jobless Citizens Organize,” The Vanguard, August 1931, p. 1.

5 “Unemployed League Growing—Many District Branches in City Unite in Federation to Demand Public Works From City, County, State and Nation,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 1-2.

6 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

7 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, March 1932, p. 3.

8 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 2, 1932, p. 3.

9 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 23, 1932, p. 3.

10 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, February 10, 1933, p. 3.

11 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

12 “ Georgetown Workers Quit,” The Vanguard, September 16, 1932, p. 2.

13 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, September 30, 1932, p. 3.

14 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

15 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, September 2, 1932, p. 5.

16 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, September 30, 1932, p. 3.

17 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 16, 1932, p. 3.

18 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

19 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, September 2, 1932, p. 5.

20 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 21, 1932, p. 3.

21 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 28, 1932, p. 3.

22 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

23 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, February 1932, p. 3.

24 “ White Center News,” The Vanguard, June 1932, p. 3.

25 “Commissioners Move on White Center,” The Vanguard, September 16, 1932, p. 3.

26 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

27 “Cooperative Farming is Latest Venture,” The Vanguard, February 1932, p. 2.

28 “ County Fuel Set-Up Breaks Down,” The Vanguard, November 4, 1932, p. 2.

29 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, April 7, 1933, p. 3.

30 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

31 “North Ballard Goes Out and Gets It,” The Vanguard, September 30, 1932, p. 2.

32 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, November 18, 1932, p. 3.

33 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, January 20, 1933, p. 3.

34 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

35 “South Ballard Readmitted,” The Vanguard, September 23, 1932, p. 3.

36 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, September 30, 1932, p. 3.

37 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 7, 1932, p. 3.

38 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

39 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, February 1932, p. 3.

40 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, April 1932, p. 2.

41 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, March 17, 1933, p. 3.

42 “Unemployed Citizen’s League Branches,” The Vanguard, September 1931, p. 3.

43 “ Georgetown U.C.L. Workers Quit,” The Vanguard, September 16, 1932, p. 2.)

44 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 7, 1932, p. 3.

45 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, November 18, 1932, p. 3.

46 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 2, 1932, p. 3.

47 “School Strike for Clothing Proposed,” The Vanguard, August 19, 1932, p. 3.

48 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, November 25, 1932, p. 3.

49 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 2, 1932, p. 3.

50 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen,December 23, 1932, p. 3.

51 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, February 1932 p. 3.

52 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, September 2, 1932, p. 5.

53 “Commissioners Move on White Center” The Vanguard, September 16, 1932, p. 3.

54 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, November 11, 1932, p. 3.

55 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, March 1932, p. 3.

56 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, March 1932, p. 3.

57 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 14, 1932, p. 3.

58 “Capitol Hill Members Freed,” The Unemployed Citizen,February 3, 1933, p. 2.

59 “A U.C.L. Ballad,” The Vanguard, October 21, 1932, p. 2.

60 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, November 18, 1932, p. 3.

61 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, November 25, 1932, p. 3.

61 “Who Cuts the Wood?” The Unemployed Citizen, December 9, 1932, p. 4.

62 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, March 1932, p. 3.

63 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, November 25, 1932, p. 3.

64 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, August 12, 1932, p. 2.

65 “Deaton Repudiated By Unemployed League,” The Vanguard, October 21, 1932, p. 1.

66 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 2, 1932, p. 3.

67 “ Wallingford Smoker and Dance,” The Vanguard, October 7, 1932, p. 2.

68 “ Wallingford U.C.L. Carries On Its Work,” The Vanguard, October 28, 1932, p. 2.

69 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 28, 1932, p. 3.

70 “ Wallingford to Have Party,” The Unemployed Citizen, December 30, 1932, p. 4.

71 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 14, 1932, p. 3.

72 “U.C.L. News Reel,” The Vanguard, October 14, 1932, p. 3.

73 “At Last Interbay Cleans House,” The Vanguard. November 18, 1932, p. 2.