Anti-Catholic American Protective Association takes control of the Seattle School Board on November 2, 1895.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2193
On November 2, 1895, the American Protective Association (APA), an anti-catholic political organization, takes control of the Seattle School Board when three candidates acceptable to the order are elected, joining a fourth already on the panel. Members and supporters perceive that Roman Catholics threaten to take over public education, politics, and the labor movement.

Paranoia-fueled Prejudice

The weekly newspaper The Argus (a supporter of the American Protective Association) tells readers, "The APA fight on Catholicism is that Catholics put the church first and the state afterwards," and that if APA opponents (Populist Democrats) win, "the scalps of the protestant teachers will dangle in their belts."

The American Protective Association was organized in Clinton, Iowa, in 1887 along the lines of "secret" and fraternal societies such as the Freemasons, the Odd Fellows, and the Knights of Columbus, but with the goal of "protecting" America from Catholicism. During the 1890s, American Protective Association councils in all states sought to influence Republican Party nominations and opposed legislation that they felt might favor Catholics or Catholic Institutions. A particular target was any plan for the sharing of public money between public and parochial schools, and contracts to allow Catholic institutions to operate Native American reservation schools.

A Faction Takes Over the Board

School board races in Washington were the only elections then open to women as voters and as candidates. One of board members approved by the American Protection Association was Winnifred Thomas. She, A. J. Wells and Andrew Chilberg, along with incumbent Judge Green, made up a majority of the board. They immediately took steps to remove the superintendent and all school janitors to make room for their own patronage appointees.

In Seattle, the Association was able to influence nominations at the municipal level, but could never offer one of its own members as a candidate and could not agree on other issues, such as Prohibition.

One prominent member of the Seattle American Protective Association was African American attorney Dr. Samuel Burdette, but the local leadership, calling itself the "Mass Battery" attempted to maneuver him out of the organization because of his race.

In November 1896, Judge Green and Mrs. Thomas were defeated by a slate of candidates supported by teachers and Populists. The order dissolved nationally after this election when APA-approved candidates found that they could refuse to support the organization's goals without fear of retribution. That year in Washington, Populists won most state and local offices.


Sources: Thomas Prosch, A Chronological History of Seattle: 1850-1897, typescript dated 1900-1901, University of Washington Library, Northwest Collection, 457; Donald L. Kinzer, An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964), 33, 157-158, 194-197; The Argus (Seattle), October 26, 1895, p. 2; Ibid., November 2, 1895, p. 1, 2; Ibid., November 23, 1895, p. 2; Ibid., February 8, 1896, p. 1; Ibid., February 15, 1896, p. 2; Ibid., February 22, 1896, p. 1; Ibid., June 20, 1896, p. 2; Ibid., November 14, 1896, p. 1; The Seattle Daily Times, November 4, 1895, p. 4.

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