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Hoovervilles in Seattle

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Background on Hoovervilles in Seattle

The stock market crash in October 1929 helped trigger a devastating depression that dominated the Northwest for nearly a decade.  The economic downturn gradually affected more and more people.  Mortgage foreclosures, delinquent taxes, and sharply rising unemployment were the experiences of many.  Between 1929 and 1933, a hundred thousand businesses failed across the nation.  Racial minorities, women, and the unskilled were the first to lose their jobs.  By the time President Hoover left office in 1933, 13 million were unemployed, about 25% of the work force.  Some unemployed became transients, searching for jobs and food.  In Seattle, unemployment was 11% in April 1930, rising to 26.%% by January 1935.

Families doubled up in apartments, others were evicted and built makeshift houses.  Groups of these dwellings for the homeless were called Hoovervilles.  In Seattle, one of the largest cluster of homeless was located on the tide flats on the site of the former Skinner and Eddy Shipyard.  Its boundaries were the Port of Seattle, warehouses, and Railroad Avenue.  A city of shacks, dwellings were fashioned from packing boxes and any other discarded materials the residents could find.  Hundreds of men lived there.  Other large cluster of shacks in Seattle were located in the southern industrial section and in Interbay.

Several attempts were made to get rid of the shack towns during the 1930s.  City officials saw them as a health problem and a nuisance.  Finally, in 1941, a shack elimination program began and the shack towns were systematically eliminated.


Primary Source Documents on Seattle's Hoovervilles


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Banner photograph Courtesy University of Washington Libraries. Special Collections.  Adapted from James P. Lee Photograph Collection. PH Coll 294.

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