Olive Ryther was an early resident of Seattle who became well known for her work caring for orphaned children, and the organization she founded still bears her name today. For a period in the 1890s, Ryther also ran the City Mission Foundling Home which served unwed mothers and their babies, and which was located in the Ryther family home near Ninth and Alder.
Not all her neighbors were happy about this aspect of her work, and eleven of them signed onto a complaint letter to the City Council in 1896. The letter noted that “the Ryther Home…is ostensibly used for charitable purposes and particularly for the reformation of fallen women and as a ‘lying-in’ establishment.” They claimed the building was overcrowded and poorly ventilated, and that the wash and laundry water “is thrown on the ground to run into the alley and adjoining lots.”
The letter expressed alarm about “diseases of a deadly nature” that had broken out in the home, noting that smallpox had killed one patient and quarantined several more. However, their main concern seemed to be about the types of people the facility served. They complained that “in the immediate vicinity many families reside who are exposed to continual danger to their health by reason of the class of persons kept therein the ‘home’ and the negligent manner in which the same is kept; that said ‘home’ in the way in which it is conducted and the kind of people kept there is a continual menace to the citizens and their families for blocks around.”
As requested by the petitioners, the Council’s Sanitation Committee conducted an investigation of the facility, but did not reach the conclusion the neighbors were hoping for. The committee report recommended that the Board of Health instruct the Rythers to improve their plumbing, but otherwise noted that the Board “[did] not recognize the Home as a nuisance more than any other well regulated hospital.”
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