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Wanamaker, William S. (1889-1944) | Sealaska Heritage Institute Archives

Name: Wanamaker, William S. (1889-1944)


Historical Note:

William S. Wanamaker (1889-1944) was a Tlingit Indian of the Kiks.ádi clan and born at Sitka, Alaska on August 12, 1889. He was the second child and son of Archie Wanamaker and his birth mother (name presently unknown). At age two his birth mother died. (His father later remarried Helen Wanamaker (1840-1934).)

Shortly after Wanamaker’s birth he was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church by Rev. Donskoy, and with his mother’s death Wanamaker spent his childhood under the care of his grandmother, who also enrolled him into the local Russian school (1905) and made sure he completed five years of learning (1910).  While attending the Russian school in Sitka he learned to speak Russian and English along with his other studies, completing his education at the eighth grade level. After completing his schooling, in 1912 he married Margaret S. Jackson (1888-1981) of Sitka.

Sources indicate that Wanamaker soon took work in the common professions open to Alaska Natives in the 1910s, such as working in fish canneries and/or mines. These professions, however, often placed Alaska Natives and other migrant workers, such as Filipinos, in dangerous and unhealthy situations. The 1910s and thereafter was a period of heightened political and social activism for Southeast Alaska Natives and Wanamaker became a member of the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood movement and the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB). Wanamaker reports that he joined the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood in 1917 and ANB in 1920. Both ANB and the Russian Orthodox Brotherhood sought to address social and political concerns of Alaska Natives, especially ANB. Through these two organizations Wanamaker was an activist for improvement and social justice.

Later, after moving to Juneau in 1926 for employment with the A.J. Mining Company as a sorter, he joined the Juneau Mine Workers Association, a union organization that fought to improve conditions and pay for workers. A surviving diary and ledger kept by Wanamaker reported on the Juneau Mine Workers Association marches and strikes during the 1930s and 1940s and Wanamaker’s involvement. Surviving ANB records also document how Wanamaker was a political activist for the cause of Civil Rights, such as how in 1940 Wanamaker, as ANB Camp 2 president, organized an Alaska Native boycott of sporting facilities in Juneau due to racial discrimination.

In 1944, after health complications, Wanamaker died at the age of 45 from “Black Lung Disease,” an affliction contracted from working in the mines and inhaling poisonous materials.  He left behind his wife and seven children.






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