55 – A Photographic Union

In today’s May 1st episode we celebrate a photographer who was a driving force behind a photographers’ labor union in Seattle in 1918.


Photos by the Kneisle studio in Seattle

Delegates to special convention S.I.U of A., Seattle
Delegates to special convention S.I.U of A., Seattle Oct. 21, 1917. Photo by J.J. Kneisle; Photo courtesy Washington State Historical Society]
Eastern delegates to Bartender, Cooks and Waiters Convention at San Francisco visiting waitress' home in Seattle June 9, 1915 , [Photo by Kneisle; Photos courtesy Washington State Historical Society]
Eastern delegates to Bartender, Cooks and Waiters Convention at San Francisco visiting waitress’ home in Seattle June 9, 1915 , [Photo by Kneisle; Photo courtesy Washington State Historical Society]
Notice of in the 1918 Bulletin of Photography about new Photographers' Union formed in Seattle.
Notice of in the 1918 Bulletin of Photography about new Photographers’ Union formed in Seattle.

Read more about  1919 general union strike in Seattle here.

And here’s more about May 1st, the International Workers Day, aka. Labour Day in countries other than the U.S.



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Support for this project is provided by listeners like you. Visit my website at p3photographers “dot” net for ideas on how you, too, can become a supporter of the project.


Hi everybody. Just a quick note about today’s episode. I realized after I’d recorded it that I wasn’t consistent and how I pronounce the family name of the photographer I’m talking about today. The family name is spelled K, N, E, I, S, L, E. Now in German, that would be pronounced, I believe, [k-nee-sil]?

But in the American pronunciation of that last name, it’s conceivable that it pronounced either [nee-sil]or [nice-il]. As I said, I’m not consistent in what I use in this episode today; it just reflects my confusion about how to pronounce it.

I did live in Germany, so I’m probably influenced by what I think is the German pronunciation — but I tried to Americanize it and I think I didn’t always get the same Americanization.

Ah well. Once again, the last name of the photographer today is spelled K, N, E, I, S, L, E.  I’ll hope you bear with me since I have no idea how this photographer actually pronounced the last name.



Welcome to Photographs, Pistols & Parasols, the podcast where we celebrate early women artisan photographers.

I’m your host, Lee McIntyre.

In today’s May 1st episode, we’re marking  Labour Day by traveling to visit with one of the founders of the first AFL Photographers’ Protective Union in Seattle.

For more information about any of the women discussed in today’s episode, visit my website at p3photographers.net.

That’s letter “p” number “3” photographers “dot” net.


Hi everybody, and welcome back to Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.

Today I want to take you back to 1918. A successful 40 year old photographer is running a studio and is concerned about fair pay in the photography industry. That photographer then becomes the first vice president of the newly formed photographers’ union in Seattle to help pursue those concerns and fight for those fair pay issues.

After getting reelected in January of 1919, the photographer winds up on the front lines of the infamous Seattle labor strike that occurs later that year.

The photographer’s name?

Well, since you’re listening to Photographs, Pistols & Parasols, it probably isn’t going to surprise you that the photographer is a woman: Janette Kneisle.

Janette Kneisle was a woman whose photography career wound up lasting more than 30 years. She was originally from New Brunswick, Canada. Her maiden name was Travis, but in 1885 she marries a man named Joseph J. Kneisle, and together they wind up moving first to Colorado, then to Portland, Oregon, before settling down in Seattle by 1915.

They were photographers earlier than that in Portland, and maybe also in Colorado before that. I haven’t really managed to track down their entire career yet, but certainly in 1915 the Kneisle studio is listed as being open and operating there in downtown Seattle.

Their studio is very popular: they do studio portraits, including some of visiting celebrities, including visiting musicians and otther popular figures who wind up getting their publicity shots taken at the Kneisles studio..

The Kneisles also work up quite a trade taking images of groups, including photos of the groups’ meetings, and/or including the annual meeting or the annual luncheons for the groups, that kind of thing.

It’s really intriguing in the late 1910s that when there are a lot of unions forming in Seattle, the Kneisle studio is at the forefront of taking pictures of the activities of those union groupsas well.

But, as I mentioned, one of the really striking things is that in 1918 it’s Janette Kneisle, not Joseph — who you might’ve thought would be the Kneisle involved in the photography union — but no, it’s Janette who is the Kneisle who becomes the first vice president of that organization. (And this is a time in Seattle when labor unions are becoming more and more prominent and more and more powerful, too).

The photographers’ union starts in 1918 but then in 1919 there is a very famous – or rather even infamous strike of all the labor unions here in Seattle.

It goes on for quite awhile, and it has a lot of popularity among the union members, but unfortunately the unions are forced to back down when a lot of factions argue against them and start to turn popular opinion against them as well.

What’s really intriguing for me to have discovered, though, was to realize that during this time period, a woman was actually able to have been at the forefront of some of these unions. That, of course, is exactly waht we find that with Janette Kneisle. Also, she’s very active as photographer, as well as in the photographer’s union. She’s active all the way into the 1920s when she’s unfortunately injured in a car accident (in 1924).

But the Kneisle studio continues to be listed in the Seattle directories through the 1930s. And in the 1940 census, both Joseph and Janette are still listed as doing photography, except Joseph is the one listed as running the studio downtown. Janette is listed as doing photography as a business, but from her home.

I said, I really haven’t had a chance to track down more information about them yet. Chris and I actually did look into this a few months ago, but we were kind of stymied by the [lack of] materials we could find online.

The University of Washington here has a very extensive achive of the Unions’ history in Seattle. Once we were able to go out and visit the UWn archives at some point in the future, hopefully we’ll be able to track down a little bit more about Janette and Joseph Kneisle.

But I did want to bring you the story today, because today ius May 1st, which is Labour Day all over the world, except just not here in the United States, of course.

But it is the International Labour Day.

And so I thought this was a great moment to celebrate the accomplishments and union activism of a woman named Janette Kneisle, a photographer for more than 30 years, ending her career here in Seattle, Washington.

In the episode notes for today, I’ll include a couple of images that I found on the Washington State Archives website.

Chris and I haven’t managed to find a photo [to buy] from the Kneisle studio yet, but we continue to look for that, along with looking for more information about this couple in general. But I’ll share what I’ve found so far in in the episode notes, which are — as always — on the website at p3photographers “dot” net. That’s letter “p”, number “3” photographers “dot” net.

You can also check out Photographs, Pistols & Parasols on facebook at facebook.com/p3photographers.

Do drop me a line if you have a question, or have the name of a woman photographer that you’d love to hear about. The email address is podcast “at” photographers.net.

So, that’s a quick one for today. Thanks as always for stopping by!

I hope that everyone is staying healthy and staying put in these crazy times. Chris and I are continuing to do research from home, looking as always to work with all the materials that are available online.

Until next time. I’m Lee, and this is Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.