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


Written by

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: