Scope and Content
Terms of Access
Broussais Coman Beck, Seattle businessman and rowing enthusiast, was born in Walla Walla, Wash., on Aug. 29, 1886. He attended the University of Washington and was active in both football and rowing, winning outstanding honors as an oarsman. He left the UW in 1910, and finished his education at Yale, graduating in electrical engineering in 1911. Despite this degree, he went into merchandising, taking department-store jobs in Boston and Portland before a position as the Bon Marche's store manager brought him back to Seattle. He remained a staunch supporter of rowing, and became chairman of the Board of Rowing Stewards at the UW shortly after its inception. He advocated the Washington style of rowing developed by his UW coach, Hiram Conibear, and played an important role in its adoption at Yale and at the University of California. His support for and interest in UW rowing culminated in his 1923 book, Rowing at Washington. In 1929, he turned his attention to the development of "day-light tube" lighting, establishing the Luminous Tube Corporation and serving as its first president. He had suffered from fragile health for much of his life, and after a prolonged illness, he died in Seattle on Aug. 7, 1936.
As the Bon Marche's store manager during the Seattle general strike of 1919, Beck had spies planted into the ranks of the labor movement. The use of agents to infiltrate the labor movement was a common practice at the time, employed not only by the Bon Marche but by police, the federal government, and other employers. The Bon Marche played a central role in galvanizing an uncompromising employer reaction to the labor crisis. In response to the strike, employers formed an alliance called the Associated Industries, presided over by Frank Waterhouse, whose business interests included the department store. After the strike failed, labor leaders called for a boycott of the Bon Marche as part of the strategy against the Associated Industries. The Bon Marche's labor policy required accurate advance information, so in order to insure precise reports Beck tried to keep strict control over his agents, but wasn't always successful. One of Beck's agents gained enough access into the Industrial Workers of the World organization to audit the financial reports of its Northwest Committee for political prisoners.
Though the agents are often referred to by code numbers or initials in the papers, it appears that Agent 107 was probably Edward W. Graham (1890-1956). Broussais C. Beck Papers (Accession 0155-001). The minutes of the IWW's Northwest District Defense Committee for September 28, 1919 (Acc# 0155-001 Box 2, Folder 12) state that "E.W. Graham" was elected committee chairman at that meeting. Agent No. 17's report for the same day in (Acc# 0155-001 Box 1, Folder 28) states that Agent 17 was elected to the same position.
Scope and Content
The papers encompass three accessions, the first one very different from the other two. Accession no. 0155-001, measuring 1.73 cubic feet, contains material Beck collected during his monitoring of labor activity, including, most notably, spy reports, but also newspaper articles, broadsides and other material. These documents, dating from 1919 to 1920, include ephemera relating to the Industrial Workers of the World and local labor union and cooperative movement activities.
The other two accessions, nos. 0155-002 and 0155-003, each measuring 0.21 cubic feet, document Beck's interest in rowing; neither has an inventory. No. 0155-002 contains the manuscript toRowing at Washington, and correspondence from 1922 to 1934 regarding rowing. Major correspondents include Frederic W. Allen, Andrew J. Balliet, Carroll (Ky) M. Ebright, Darwin Meisnest and Dean Witter. Accession no. 0155-003 contains additional documents on UW rowing (bulk 1923), with some materials touching upon the early history of UW sports in general. Included are correspondence (1922-1924, with one telegram of condolence from Eleanor Beck to Mrs. Russell S. Calloway, 1961), notes (one by Broussais Beck from 1928), newspaper clippings (Seattle Times articles from 1960 about the Lake Washington Rowing Club), and memoirs. Major correspondents in this accession include Grace Conibear, Dean Witter, and Andrew J. Balliet.
None of the three accessions deal in any significant degree with the internal functioning of the Bon Marche, the Luminous Tube Corporation, or Beck's personal life unrelated to athletics.
Terms of Access
Open to all users.
Consult the restrictions governing publication for each of the accessions listed below.
Eleanor Nordhoff Beck, the widow of Broussais Beck, originally donated the papers in Accession no. 0155-001 to the Bureau of Economic Research, ca. 1940; they were transferred to the University of Washington Libraries in Mar. 1960. The materials in Accession no. 0155-002, originally part of the Eleanor Nordhoff Beck Papers (Accession no. 0629), were received on July 25, 1966, as a bequest of her estate; they were separated from Accession no. 0629 on May 21, 1981. Broussais C. Beck, Jr. donated Accession no. 0155-3 on Feb. 24, 1993.
Some of the enclosures which originally accompanied the spy reports of Accession no. 0155-001 are now distributed throughout the other series in the accession, but some enclosures remain with their respective reports. The dates used for chronological filing of the reports are those identified as the dates the activities described took place. Most reports also include a second date on which the report was made. Noticeable inconsistencies in the dating occur; for example, three reports bear the same date associated with three different days of the week.
The arrangement of Accession no. 0155-001 was refined and a new index created in May 1998.
While Beck does not figure prominently in either of the following books, the Beck papers were used in these studies of the early twentieth-century labor situation:
Dana Frank, Purchasing Power (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Robert L. Friedheim, The Seattle General Strike (Seattle: UW Press, 1964). (Friedheim cites the Broussais C. Beck Papers as "Papers on Industrial Espionage").
|Last modified: February 25, 2014|