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New Books

I received good news this week. University of Washington Press is listing two books of mine in their online catalogue. The first is Power for the People, the centennial history of Seattle City Light. I worked on this for Walt Crowley and History Ink more than five years ago, but publication was delayed by Walt’s illness and death. 

It’s a fascinating story, if I say so myself.The utility started in an era of go-go capitalism where corporations and trusts had their way with U.S. consumers. There was little, except Teddy Roosevelt, to block their sharp and even rapacious business practices. The cost for electricity from the one company selling power in Seattle at the turn of the 20th Century was something like 20 cents a kilowatt hour. That compares to more than $4 in today’s values. As soon as competition in the form of City Light and the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company came on the scene the prices began to drop. And they continued to drop until 1970.

A Seattle newspaper columnist called City Light the closest thing the city has to a “secular religion.” The utility survived political manipulation, fierce propaganda campaigns, the gold rush for hydroelectric sites, and engineering difficulties. Central to the success of the idea of public power was James Delmage “JD” Ross, a self-trained electrical engineer who envisioned Seattle growing and prospering with the benefit of cheap, plentiful electricity. You have to read the book to see how things turn out.

The other book is Hope on the Hill:The First Century of Seattle Children’s Hospital (formerly Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, Children’s Medical Center, etc.) which I researched and co-authored with Walt. The book was due out in 2007 in time for their centennial, but was delayed due to finalization of the hospital’s expansion plans.

This is another story of visionaries, in this case women who wanted to care for children disabled by disease and birth defects. Anna Clise and Harriet Stimson gathered like-minded wives of prominent businessmen to provide the long-term care needed to correct club feet, tuberculosis of the bone, and osteomyelitis, but at little or no cost to families. They recruited physicians to donate their services and raised money. They organized neighborhood guilds as networks to provide everything from sewn bandages to fresh and home-canned foods. The annual Penny Drive became a Seattle and Pacific Northwest institution.

What was amazing to me was that the women retained control of this remarkable enterprise when other successful hospitals were taken over by the physicians. The Board of Trustees remained entirely female until about 2003. Dorothy Stimson Bullitt, founder of King Broadcasting and daughter of founder Harriet Stimson, served on the board for many years. In the 1960s, when Seattle corporations scrambled to add women to their boards of directors, they found a great pool of talent with corporate experience at Children’s. Bill Gates’s mother, Mary, was a long-time and highly-respected trustee who helped spin off the foundation that now supports uncompensated care and research.

While I was working on the book, I kept encountering people who had history with Children’s. The washing machine repairman spent nine months there. The clerk at the County Courthouse had his tonsils out there. It seemed like most of the city had some connection with “the Orthopedic.”

Again, buy the book to see how it turns out.

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