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Researching Housing Covenants in 1930s Moscow

By Emme Dibble, LCHS Intern, University of Idaho History student


This semester I was given the opportunity, by Dr. Rebecca Scofield, to do an internship with the Latah County Historical Society where I would be researching racial housing covenants in Moscow. These clauses were placed in property deeds to prevent minority populations from living in white neighborhoods. I am a double major in Sociology and Political Science and receiving a certificate in Equity and Inclusion. I am extremely passionate about working towards a more equitable place to live with more opportunities for racial minorities. This internship allowed me the opportunity to be hands on with the Moscow community I have been a part of since coming to college three years ago.


Working with the Latah County Historical Society was such a fun learning experience! When I started this internship, I knew I was going to need to learn some new skills. These skills had to do with researching things without a straight-forward way of doing it. Unlike a math problem, there wasn’t ever a right answer in this research, a question that I found a clear answer to, other than to know and understand how important this work is. I never thought of computer work being so important and personal until I did research for the LCHS.


Main Street in Moscow during the 1930s. LCHS Photo: 01-02-065

Searching online for addresses was challenging. I finally found that walking around town and looking for addresses worked better for entry into the courthouse database! I knew the styles of houses I was looking for since I found out that most of the racial covenants were placed on houses during the 1930’s. So, I began to research and learn about architectural traits of that era like red brick and cobblestone, diamond shapes, herringbone bricks, square shapes suitable for the size of the house, window frames and doors often were styled with the same color paint and trim, usually 1 or 2 stories, and so much more. As I walked through the streets of Moscow I kind of felt like a mini detective, searching for covenants with my housing knowledge clues I had acquired.


Researching always looked a little different depending on the day. Sometimes I could do research on my own anywhere, which was fun; I enjoyed being able to go to a coffee shop with a list of addresses. I knew I needed to lookup the parcel number, then try and find out characteristics so I could use that later to trace back house deeds to the time racial covenants could have been placed on a residence. Most of the real tracing had to take place at the Latah County Court House. I found this fact exciting and fun because I was able to work with people in the community, on important work. Having a helpful, and accessible advisor like Kaitlynn [Anderson, LCHS museum curator] for the internship helped so much. At times we found ourselves in the same stuck place, but bouncing ideas off Kaitlynn and another intern, Emilie, helped the process.


Hallway in the Latah County Courthouse. Photo courtesy of courthouses.co

There are only a couple of computers in the assessor’s office, and only one public computer in the office that had the information we needed for the research. So, one of the problems we ran into was when the computers weren’t working the way we wanted. Although it was not really a problem since finding help at the courthouse was effortless, and everyone there wanted to help me get where I was going. I am at heart an adventurous extroverted person and I never thought sitting behind a computer could be interesting. As the stereotype goes, I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this research and all the little problems along the way that we had to solve.


There is more research to be done, as Kaitlynn would remind us interns that while sometimes research can go on for a bit without findings, this is important work that needs to be done. I can say I feel so much more comfortable with this kind of research, and I am grateful for enriching my skills more.

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