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Seattle Workmen's Circle 15th Anniversary, 1924

Photo of Seattle Workmen's Circle 15th Anniversary, 1924

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Overview of the Workmen's Circle, Seattle Branch

By Lee Micklin, November 2, 1998.

Reprinted from

Copyright 2001 History Ink.

In 1909, the Seattle Branch 304 of Workmen's Circle organized. Known as the Arbeiter Ring in Yiddish, it was officially a socialist worker's organization although its activities were more social than socialist and its early membership was made up of many small business entrepreneurs. Early activities include summer picnics, festive observances of the Jewish Holidays, New Year's Eve celebrations in downtown hotels, banquets, and lectures.

Nationally, the Workmen's Circle was formed in 1892 by a group of immigrant Jewish workers as a mutual aid society on New York's Lower East Side. In 1900, it became a national fraternal order and by 1910 had 38,866 members. It provided a broad cul tural and educational program that included lectures, theater, choruses, orchestras, and established schools that emphasized Jewish history and particularly the Yiddish language.

In Seattle, the Workmen's Circle's first location was a rented store on 14th Avenue and Main Street. In 1920, the members bought a building at 120 21st Avenue that had been a blacksmith shop. They established a Yiddish school and put on plays. The Workman's Circle's was a cultural center for East European Jews.

Some activities of the Workmen's Circle were in keeping with their socialist bent. During World War I, members helped to organize rent strikes. They set up cooperative groceries and meat markets.

The group's Socialist background made them a police target during the "Red Scare" after World War I. (The Red Scare involved anti-radical vigilantism, raids on labor and radical organizations and newspapers, and deportations of non-citizen dissent ers. It is often compared to the McCarthy Era of the 1950s.) The Yiddish School was raided; the teachers and students were booked at the Federal Center and had to appear in court. But in the end the charges were dropped.

In 1937, the Workmen's Circle purchased a site at 17th Avenue and East Marion Street. Construction of a new building was begun in December 1941. It took a year to complete, due to the scarcity of materials during the war.

The Workmen's Circle bought war bonds during both World Wars, sponsored dances for servicemen, and worked with the local United Service Organization (USO). They contributed financially toward evacuating a large group of Jewish labor leaders from N azi Germany.

In 1973, the Workmen's Circle ceased operation.

Essay Sources: Lorraine Sidell, "Historically Speaking: Workman's Circle," Nizcor: Washington State Jewish Historical Society Newsletter, May, 1991; Washington State Jewish Historical Society, The Jewish Experience in Washington S tate: A Chronology 1853-1995 (Seattle: Washington State Jewish Historical Society, 1998); Daniel Soyer, "Workmen's Circle," Encyclopedia of the American Left ed. by Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1990 ), 856-858.

View the Photograph

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View picture with numbers, for cross-referencing with names of people shown:

And for those who are truly dedicated, I have also provided the picture in TIF format (13.3 MB). Note that the size is 13.3 megabytes, which may take a considerable time to download. However, it contains more detail than the smaller files listed above.

Names of the People Shown

You can download copies of the photograph with numbers shown for each person, and cross-reference those with the people shown in either of the following lists:

Sources of the Photograph and Names

The original of the photograph above is in the collection of Al Shulman, in Bellevue, WA.

This image was scanned from a copy of the original; the original is much better in quality and does not have the damage seen above.

Al Shulman provided most of the names, using his handwritten notes.

This page was created by Greg Lowney, April 2001.

Copyright 2001-2002 Gregory C. Lowney or the author, all rights reserved.