EVEN AMID TODAY’S existential climate change, like others, I often find the need to hop in my car to drive across town. But on Oct. 10, 1908, when our “Then” photo was taken, only eight years had elapsed since a car first traveled Seattle streets.
The unpaved street at left is 21st Avenue East, near the eastern edge of Capitol Hill. The setting is majestic: brand-new Holy Names Academy and Normal School, whose first classes for its female Catholic students had begun just one month earlier.
There, a rare sight awaited a photographer from William Romans’ studio, possibly the famed Asahel Curtis, who worked for Romans from 1907 to 1911. Facing the elevated lens were 17 buggies ready to escort senior students and chaperones on a Saturday afternoon ride. The Seattle Times reported the next day, “The most interesting parts of the city were visited.”
Organizing the two-hour trek was Dr. Harry Shaw, a Seattle physician and surgeon who, according to the Holy Names Chronicles, provided “a box of candy for the occupants of each machine.”
The outing fit the outgoing personality of Shaw, a courtroom testifier who was hardly shy. When a Chicago professor, Albert P. Matthews, claimed in 1905 that a diet serving “the exact chemical needs of the body” could produce everlasting life, Shaw delivered a blistering indictment to The Times.
“The term ‘chemical need’ is meaningless,” Shaw said. “We understand the chemical construction of the human organism, but the chemical needs differ in each individual and are formed largely by climatic conditions, altitude and a hundred other conditions of environment. … No person is entirely well.”
Shaw’s automotive contingent of 99 people might have looked at things more spiritually, though many are adorned with the earthly attire of fancy hats and other finery. Some wear mortarboards with tassels. One carries a 1910 pennant, perhaps a hoped-for graduation year.
This engaging image is among 100 photos appearing in the definitive book by Jackie Williams, “The Hill With a Future: Seattle’s Capitol Hill 1900-1946,” recently reprinted by the Capitol Hill Historical Society.
It also is among thousands of items carefully cataloged by archivist and former student Christie Sheehan Spielman at Holy Names Academy’s Heritage Center. Opened last June, the center’s spacious exhibit is open to the public by request.
The Baroque Revival entry of Holy Names, designed by Breitung & Buchinger, remains intact, though missing its northern tower, earthquake-damaged in 1965. More than 10,000 female students have walked its halls since 1880, including at two earlier edifices: downtown, and in the Chinatown-International District (the latter razed for the Jackson Street Regrade).
And unlike 1908, we might say that many of today’s Holy Names girls are in the driver’s seat.