Frances Osborne gets us a traffic light


On March 14, 1939, a lone widow was conducting a vigorous and profitable campaign to get a traffic signal installed at NE 125 th St. and Roosevelt Way. In her tiny office in her home at 12008 Roosevelt Way NE, Mrs. Frances Osborne, justice of the peace for Sunrise precinct, was doing a thriving business. At the rate of two or three an hour, motorists somewhat ruffled and at times indignant, entered her court with a yellow slip and deposited $5 bail. The slips would be presented the luckless motorists by Claude Rafter, the precinct constable, and his brother, Lester. When the unwary drivers going northbound on Roosevelt Way failed to make a complete stop at the stop sign at the intersection, the two, lying in wait in an auto parked unobtrusively nearby, would pounce out and make the arrests. Even the huge sign outside Mrs. Osborne’s home announcing that she performs marriages and gives a present to every bride did not stir any feelings of sentiment or romance in the hearts of the court’s clients. When the motorists’ predictable excuses of not seeing the stop sign would begin, Mrs. Osborne would retort:

That’s just the trouble. A lot of drivers don’t see it and that’s why we want a stop light at that corner. I’ve been trying for months to get them to put in a stop light there but the state patrol, the state highway department, the county, and the automobile club turned me down. So I’ve got to get the public aroused and that’s why we are making arrests…We are out to bring about a much needed reform and if we can get enough motorists to get indignant, we’ll get action.

After collecting the $5 fee, Mrs. Osborne would tell the violators that they did not have to return for trial unless they really wanted to, knowing well that most would not. She claimed that arrests averaged about two an hour, but also declared that the Rafters did not stay on the job all day.

Of the $5 fee, Mrs. Osborne turned over half of it to the county. The other half she split between herself and Constable Rafter, not a bad deal in exchange for the time and effort to get a traffic signal installed, even though it smells of cynicism. She redeemed herself in a way, intimating to a Seattle PI reporter that she rebuffed attempts by a certain King County police officer to get her to “fix” tags for his friends. Some things never change, such as police corruption and the arduous efforts certain civic crusaders must endure to get something done which benefits their communities. But the traffic signal is still there, a monument to a woman who has faded into obscurity and whose house was leveled in the late 1980s to make way for apartments.