In honor of Women’s History month, we are taking a look at Washington’s long history of protecting the freedom, privacy and liberty of women & families. Over the past 100 years, our state has been a trailblazer in recognizing the rights of women.
Did you know that Seattle was the first major U.S. city to elect a woman as mayor? In 1926, Bertha Knight Landes became the first — and to date, only! — woman mayor in Seattle. Since her term, Seattle has had a strong history of electing women’s rights advocates to the mayoral office, although Landes was the only woman to ever hold that position.
In celebration of Women’s History month, we encourage all of our female-identified supporters and activists to consider running for public office!
Before her political career took off, Bertha Knight Landes was a civic activist, involved in many women’s organizations in Seattle, including the Women’s University Club, the Women’s Century Club, and the Women’s Auxiliary of University Congregational Church, and she was president of the Washington State chapter of the League of Women Voters. In 1922, Landes organized “The Women’s Civic League” with the intent of educating women about local, state, national and world politics, and in cooperation with other organizations, to work towards securing the welfare of the city and improving civic conditions. Within a year it had more than 500 members.
In 1922, Bertha Landes and Kathryn Miracle were the first women to serve on Seattle City Council. Landes was made Council President after her reelection to the City Council in 1924. That same year, Seattle Mayor Brown left town to attend the 1924 Democratic National Convention, leaving Landes as Acting Mayor in his absence. Angry at what she saw as police corruption and lawless activity, Landes fired Police Chief William B. Severyns. She began her own law and order campaign, closing down illegal activities throughout the city, including lotteries, punchboards and speakeasies. Upon his return, Mayor Brown reinstated the Police Chief.
When Brown ran for another two-year term in 1926, Landes ran against him, on the platform that “municipal housecleaning” was needed in the Seattle government. Landes easily won the election in March, by more than 6,000 votes.
As Mayor, Landes continued the work she’d begun on the City Council, supporting city planning and zoning, improved public health & safety programs, and promoted the establishment of hospitals and recreation programs. As part of her measures to counteract the corruption she’d seen as Acting Mayor in 1924, Landes encouraged professional expertise, and hired by merit through a strengthened Civil Service Commission. She also supported public ownership of utilities. Landes countered the dominant business perspective with one that included caring for the City’s moral, social and physical environment. The legacy Landes left is one of using city government for civic betterment.
When Landes was defeated for re-election for Mayor in 1928 by Frank Edwards, she was asked about the future of women in politics. She said, “Women now wield considerable power along political lines and I believe each succeeding year for some time to come will find them wielding that power more effectively.”