The Seattle Union Record and its 28 Year Run

The Seattle Union Record was established in 1899 at a meeting of the Western Central Labor Union, the organization that became the Seattle Central Labor Council in 1905 and eventually the King County Labor Council in 2005. The first issue was published on February 20, 1900 and printed on a weekly basis until 1918 when the paper campaigned for enough funding to publish daily. Although a number of labor publications circulated in Washington in the early 1900s, the Union Record is perhaps the most famous from this era, reporting primarily on labor issues in Seattle and Washington as well as nationally and internationally. Owned by the Seattle Central Labor Council, a local chapter of the American Federation of Labor, it was generally more conservative than other radical political papers at the time. However, it was still more politically left-leaning than the mainstream press in Seattle that frequently cast organized labor in a negative light.

The newspaper consisted of articles, political cartoons, poems, letters from readers, a women’s page, and job listings as well as advertisements from businesses run by union labor and an “unfair list” of businesses known to have poor labor practices. Following Gordon Rice and George T. McNamara, Harry Ault served as editor from 1912 to 1924. Other notable figures in the Seattle labor movement contributed as well, including journalist Anna Louise Strong who wrote editorials, responded to readers in the “Ruth Ridgeway” column, and published political poems under the pseudonym Anise. It was Strong that wrote the famous “No One Knows Where” editorial published two days before the Seattle General Strike began. 

The Seattle Union Record reached its peak around the time of the Seattle General Strike, circulating to over 80,000 subscribers. The newspaper closed its doors in 1928 after a gradual decrease in circulation left the paper unable to financially sustain itself. It remains one of the longest running daily labor papers in the US to date, made possible by the strength of the Seattle labor movement during these years. It was temporarily resurrected in 2000—at least in spirit—during the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild strike by Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer staff which the strikers named their strike newspaper in its honor.

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Reproduction of “A Page Especially for Women” featuring an article about Blanche Johnson, April 1918.
Seattle Union Record (Seattle, WA). University of Washington Libraries Microforms & Newspapers.

As a way to engage with working-class female readership, the Seattle Union Record began publishing a women’s page in 1909. Initially, the “Magazine Section,” renamed “A Page Especially for Women” in 1915, was geared towards housewives of trade union men, consisting of articles about cooking, shopping, and fashion trends. This shifted as women began playing a more prominent role in labor organizing in the 1910s. The women’s page expanded coverage to include issues specific to wage earning, working-class women and published information about upcoming meetings and events sponsored by the Seattle Union Card and Label League.

This women’s page was printed in April 1918 and features articles about the election of Blanche Johnson to the Seattle Central Labor Council as the designated Woman Organizer, national coverage regarding protections for working mothers, cooking recipes, and the Tom Mooney trial in San Francisco, California.

Trail Blazer certificate issued to William F. DeLaney by the Seattle Union Record, approximately 1917.
Harry E. B. Ault papers. Accession no. 0213-001, Box 5/33. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

In 1917, Editor Harry Ault spearheaded a campaign to fund a daily publication of the Seattle Union Record. 150 individuals and labor unions donated, making it possible to print the newspaper daily. Union Record management awarded this certificate to William F. DeLaney in recognition of his contribution.

Portrait of Harry Ault, approximately 1918-1924.
Portraits collection. PH Coll 0563, Box 2. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

Erwin Bratton “Harry” Ault (1883-1961) served as the third editor of the Seattle Union Record from 1912 to 1924. Ault came to the Union Record with a background in socialist politics and journalism, spending his teen years with his family at the Equality Colony, a socialist community in Edison, Washington and writing and serving as editor for a number of socialist newspapers in the years that followed. He was a member of the Typographers Union in Seattle, elected Secretary of the Seattle Central Labor Council in 1910, and appointed Editor of the Union Record in 1912. Under Ault’s editorship, the Seattle Union Record became a successful labor newspaper despite persistent funding issues that eventually led to its closure in 1928. Ault also played a central role in organizing the Newsboys Union that distributed the paper. In 1924, as funding and community support declined, Ault gave his resignation as editor. In 1936, Ault ran for the House of Representatives losing to Warren G. Magnuson. Shortly thereafter, Ault was elected as Deputy US Marshall of Tacoma, Washington in 1938 and stayed in the position until 1953 when he retired.

Seattle Central Labor Council letter regarding shutdown of the Seattle Union Record, November 16, 1919.
Pierce County Central Labor Council records. Accession no. 2882-001, Box 4/3. Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

On November 13, 1919, following Harry Ault’s editorial “Don’t Shoot in the Dark,” responding to the violence that took place outside the IWW hall in Centralia on November 11th, Union Record staff, including Harry Ault, Anna Louise Strong, Frank Rust, and George P. Listman, were arrested and charged with conspiracy and violation of the Espionage Act by the Federal Government. The Union Record office was shut down and raided. A week later, the government ruled this move unconstitutional, and the paper reopened and resumed operations. During the raid, Bert Swain, Secretary of the Seattle Central Labor Council sent this letter to affiliated unions, updating members about the newspaper’s sudden closure.

Seattle Union Record shareholder report, authored by Anna Louise Strong, 1920.
Harry E. B. Ault papers. Accession no. 0213-001, Box 5/33. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

Earl George (1894-1985) was a Seattle longshore worker-leader, labor and civil rights activist, and photographer. A WWI veteran, George witnessed the Seattle General This report, crafted by Anna Louise Strong, illustrates the cooperative ownership model of the Seattle Union Record, the Seattle Central Labor Council and affiliated unions owning shares that helped maintain the newspaper’s operations. Page seven of the report comments on the newspapers impact, not only keeping readers, some of whom lived in other countries, informed, but having a direct impact on the success of labor organizing efforts as well.

Seattle Union Record Articles of Incorporation, 1918.
Harry E. B. Ault papers. Accession no. 0562-001, Box 1/41. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
Reproduction group photograph of Seattle Central Labor Council and Seattle Union Record employees, approximately 1918-1924.
Mickey Neylan photograph collection. PH Coll 0449. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

This group photograph features a number of notable individuals involved in the Seattle labor movement, writing for the Seattle Union Record and serving in leadership positions of local unions and the Seattle Central Labor Council as well as the General Strike Committee in 1919. Individuals include Alice Lord of the Waitresses Union, Frank Turco of the Blacksmiths Union (later the Newsboys Union), and Harry Ault, Editor of the Seattle Union Record. They appear to be standing in front of the Seattle Union Record office, located in downtown Seattle a few blocks from the Seattle Labor Temple.

Reproduction photograph, most likely of Seattle Union Record staff inside office, approximately 1918-1919.
Mickey Neylan photograph collection. PH Coll 0449. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

The Seattle Union Record office was located near the Seattle Labor Temple at 6th Avenue and University Street. This image is believed to feature newspaper staff sitting inside. In the back left corner of the office is a sign on the wall that says “Anise,” the pseudonym Anna Louise Strong used for her poetry printed in the Union Record. 

American Federation of Labor Membership Book and Working Card of Morris Elkins, Newsboys Union Local 15834, 1918-1921. 
Morris Elkins Papers, Accession No. 4087-001, VF 2017. Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.