Bertha Knight Landes (1868-1943)

BERTHA KNIGHT LANDES

Political pioneer Bertha Knight Landes was the first woman mayor of Seattle and the first woman mayor of a major American city. 

Landes and her family moved to Washington in 1895 when her husband Henry became a faculty member at the University of Washington.  Landes was the mother of three children and was active in various women’s clubs.  For example, she founded the Women’s City Club and was president of the Washington State League of Women Voters.  In 1921, the Seattle mayor appointed her to serve on a commission studying unemployment.

Landes and Kathryn Miracle became the first women to serve on the Seattle City Council in 1922.  After being re-elected in 1924, Landes became the Council President.  Two years later, in 1926, she ran for mayor of Seattle.  Running on a platform that stressed law enforcement, reform, and morality, she defeated incumbent Edwin J. “Doc” Brown. 

Both as the City Council President and as mayor, Landes supported issues like city planning and zoning, improved public health and safety programs, and better hospitals and recreation programs.  She supported public ownership of utilities.  Landes’ administration focused on caring for Seattle’s moral, social, and physical environment.   

Even though her administration went well and received high marks, the issue of her sex consistently superseded her accomplishments in office; most people believed a city as large as Seattle should have a male leader.  Knight was defeated for reelection in 1928.  When asked what she saw as the future for 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.  But…at present men in general are not ready to yield to women the privilege and right of holding high political office."

After her political career, Landes wrote extensively for national magazines, encouraging other women to become involved in politics.  Landes wanted women to be treated equally with men and called for public service to be gender-neutral.  She wrote, “Let us, while never forgetting our womanhood, drop all emphasis on sex, and put it on being public servants.”

 

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