Fists & Fish

Something strong about this late summer 1913 photo of two young women at the Apex Cannery in Anacortes, working the lid and crimping machine before the full cans of salmon are loaded into the huge steam retorts. The glass plate negative image almost seems to be steamed up in the background, as the girls pause from their heavy work and the leather belts and whirling motors keep spinning around them. Look at the stacks of wooden can trays behind them and the uniformity of their rubber aprons, caps and pinking sheared sleeves. This was hard seasonal work on long shifts during the pink salmon runs, when the fish traps were bulging and the salmon barges pulled up to the canneries alive with loads of monster 12 pound fish. But the pay was good, especially for women, Washington had given women the vote in State elections and they were already changing working conditions for everyone and filling full time jobs on the waterfront and cities of the Pacific Northwest. In 1913 though, before World War 1 and the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, when women won the right to vote nationally, it was rare to see high quality photographs of women in hard industrial workplaces like this. Something about the fists and gloves that just punches up the narrative.Cannery girls

Asahel Curtis glass plate prints. WSHS. 1943.42.27677 & 1943.42.27457

cannery girl1

salmon lable

cannery fish

Anacortes, ‘The Gloucester of the Pacific,’ puts up more canned salmon than any other city on earth. The six salmon canneries of Anacortes – The Alaska Packers Association, the Fidalgo Island Packing Company, the Pacific American Fisheries, the Apex Fish Company, the Coast Fish Company and the Porter Fish company- last season packed approximately 700,000 cases of salmon. If all the cases of salmon turned out by the six Anacortes canneries in one ten hour day were placed one on top of the other they would make a pile 20,500 feet high, or nearly twice as high as Mt. Baker…Every four years is a big year in the salmon canning industry. It is then that the sockeye, the choicest of salmon for canning purposes, enter Puget Sound from the ocean in teeming millions on their way to spawning grounds in the fresh waters of the Fraser and Skagit rivers. Source: Anacortes Chamber of Commerce and Manufacture. ANACORTES AND SKAGIT COUNTY, 1914


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