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When being poor in Seattle was a criminal offense

"I'd rather be in hell, than on the chain gang." 

In 1872, the Seattle council passed Ordinance 32 that outlined punishment for vagrants — the idle, dissolute, immoral, profligate, or the unemployed — by specifying that they could be put to work. Many offenses earned a sentence on the chain gang: Swearing, drunkenness, illegal gambling, patronizing prostitutes. But for many, the only offense was being poor. If you couldn’t pay a fine, you had to work it off on the gang.

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When being poor in Seattle was a criminal offense

About the Authors & Contributors

Eric Keto

Eric is a video producer for Cascade Public Media.

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's editor at-large as well as a regular columnist covering history, politics and culture in the Pacific Northwest.