Seattle Now & Then: Holy Names Academy 1908

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

Two tykes on foot at left eye the unusual gathering on Oct. 10, 1908, of 17 open-air autos loaded with 99 students and others in front of just-opened Holy Names Academy and Normal (teaching) School. In the distance at upper left is the fledgling Aloha Street. (Romans Photographic Company, Courtesy Holy Names Academy)
Holy Names students and staff pose before the building’s landscaped entry, where in 1908 cars had assembled in the dust. Tom Heuser, president of the Capitol Hill Historical Society, stands at right, and Christie Sheehan Spielman, the school’s archivist, peeks out atop the stairs. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Jan. 16, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Jan. 19, 2020)

Driving to the future – with a box of candy – from Holy Names
By Clay Eals

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” 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 prior.

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 catalogued 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.


To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Here, from our automotive informant Bob Carney, is an annotation of the vehicles in our “Then” photo:

  • As a reference point, we will use the car in the foreground (unidentified).
  • Behind and to the left of it are 2 1907 or 1908 Pierce Great Arrows.
  • To the left of the Pierces is a 1909 Packard (must have been available early).
  • In the center, in the middle of the pack is a barrel hooded air-cooled 1907 or 1908 Franklin (you can read the name if you enlarge it enough).
  • To the immediate right of the foreground car is a 1908 Pope-Hartford, and there is another one straight down the middle all the way in back by the corner of the building.
  • That was all I was able to identify — and I am only 100 percent sure about the Franklin and the Packard.

Below are two additional photos and 11 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. Enjoy!

Construction workers pose at Holy Names in 1908 or shortly before. They include bricklayer Andrew Schwarz, great uncle of Karen O’Brien, president of the Rainier Valley Historical Society. Dressed in overalls, he stands at lower right with his arm on the scaffolding. The brick contractor, not pictured, was O’Brien’s great-grandfather Joseph Wittman of Austria. O’Brien is a graduate of Holy Names, as was her mother, Mary O’Brien, class of 1942. (Karen O’Brien)
Holy Names archivist Christie Sheehan Spielman and Tom Heuser, president of the Capitol Hill Historical Society, pose inside the Holy Names Academy Heritage Center, which opened in June 2019. (Clay Eals)
July 2, 1905, Seattle Times, page 10
Feb. 10, 1907, Seattle Times, page 93
Feb. 23, 1907, Seattle Times, page 2
Feb. 24, 1907, Seattle Times, page 56
May 12, 1907, Seattle Times, page 41
May 19, 1907, Seattle Times, page 2
May 20, 1907, Seattle Times, page 7
July 5, 1908, Seattle Times, page 22
Sept. 6, 1908, Seattle Times, page 29
Oct. 11, 1908, Seattle Times, page 15
Nov. 7, 1908, Seattle Times, page 4

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