in 1917, when a strike was looming, the old Seattle Laundry Owners
Club was formulated quickly. But the compulsion of male laundry
owners to stick together was more complex than many histories credit.
As early as the year (1914) Seattle Empire opened, there was a "Seattle
Laundry Men's Club". It met every Friday evening at Third Avenue's
Lyon Building, as well as holding regular banquets, dances and 'evenings'
to raise its members' social profiles. On January 1, 1914, the club
even hired a professional secretary.
was one William S. Thyng, who would retain his office into the late
1920s. As pacific Laundryman duly noted Thyng was not himself a
laundry man - but he became the owners' delegated spokesperson.
He also took the initiative in emphasizing their common interests
(in 1914, for instance, Thyng attempted to set up " an employment
agency though which the laundrymen may procure first-class help".
1997, Dr. Arwen P. Mohun addressed
the culture of the male laundry boss, with a perceptive essay she
entitled 'Laundrymen Construct Their World', published in the Society
for the History of Technology's journal "Culture & Technology".
in the late 19th century," she writes, "...the gendered
connotations attached to laundry technology and to its users are
a pervasive theme in the laundrymen's discourse."
with the persistent notion that laundry was 'women's work', they
(the laundrymen) presented their own complex arguments suggesting
that...laundries as technological systems were essentially masculine;
that they required masculine ways of thinking about and organizing
technology in order to function properly; that, in fact, women unsexed
themselves by claiming more than a small degree of authority in
determination to control perceptions presupposed control of all
female workers - and Seattle laundrymen were no exception. Their
owners cartel smarted from their 1917 loss to the laundry
1918, they reformulated their group, as the "Seattle Laundrymens
Club". This 'new' organization promoted itself further by taking
an office in downtown's Arctic Building. Their constant aim was
to present the owners not workers as their industrys
laundry owners," notes Dr. Mohun, "...employed the strategy
of rendering their workers invisible. In their depiction, machines
carried out the process."
this end, Seattle's Laundry Owners' Club had one constant ally.
This was the regional trade journal called Pacific Laundryman, which
began the same year that Keeney built the Seattle Empire.
almost every page of every issue and, especially in editorials,
it took the owners' part against upstart laundry workers. The bulk
of Pacific Laundryman was comprised of ads heralding technological
miracles (a special soap, a new collar-shaping machine) and by gossipy
details of local laundrymen's lives and "doings".
owners representing their business as a synthesis of modern technologies,
Pacific Laundryman provided a vital prop.
1924, the Seattle's Owners Club even modernized their moniker. With
larger offices in the Securities Building, they had became the "Seattle
Laundryowners Association." Under this name, they forged an
alliance with a statewide group, the Washington Laundry Owners.
the parallel universe of workers and their representatives, Dave
Beck continued to amass power of his own. In 1925, he became Secretary
of Seattles Joint Council of Teamsters and proved instrumental
in preventing a drivers' strike that spring.
May, negotiations began between Locals 566, 43, 40 and the Laundry
Owners Association. These negotiations would eat up almost
nine months and involve much more than merely renewing the unions
the owners, led by John Hagen - who now owned the Seattle Empire
- wanted revenge for the loss in 1917. Determined to assert total
control over their industry, they saw this moment as their chance
to crush the troublesome unions.
was not alone in seeing that prospect as insuring the future; Seattle's
laundry "men" swore defiance against the "laundry