Thursday, February 19, 2009

The sinful seamstress

I've been reading a lot of Seattle and Pacific Northwest history recently, and one thing I am really struck by is how prominently women figure in it. I don't even have to go digging to get at the women's history, it's readily available and included in the books I've found.

The title of this post is directly taken from a chapter in J Kingston Pierce's book, "Eccentric Seattle", one of the books I've enjoyed recently. He is referring to German immigrant Dorothea Georgine Emilie Ohben, known in Seattle as Lou Graham. From all I have read, Seattle was a pretty crazy place, well into the 1930's at least, a real frontier town, with all that you might expect from a frontier town. When Lou arrived in 1889, it was shortly after a series of reforms had (temporarily) closed all the gambing joints and various vice dens and the city was hurting, since vices paid for much of Seattle's revenue at the time. Lou set up shop in downtown Seattle, at the edge of the then red-light district and soon business was booming. Her business was regarded (at least by some) as a class act, a place for intelligent conversation, and a fine place to meet if you were a representative of Seattle city government (drinks were free to them). Lou paid the city large sums in taxes and fees. She also helped out some prominent Seattle citizens by making loans to them during the terrible country-wide economic depression that began in 1893.

A couple of tidbits about Lou: 1) Pierce notes that she loved jewelry and particularly loved diamonds. She even had a pair of gold garters in which diamonds were embedded. 2) As necessary, her girls described their occupation as "seamstress". The sparkly button bracelet shown above came from reflecting on these two tidbits.

Obviously I don't condone the activities in which Lou was engaged, but I find it interesting to think about her contributions to the growth of Seattle, and I wonder about her as a person and how and why she ended up where she did, doing what she did. By the way, Lou's original establishment still stands in downtown Seattle - it is now the Washington Court Building.

No comments:

Post a Comment