This week we’re publishing the winning entries in the Southwest Seattle Historical Society‘s youth-writing contest, for essays on “Women History Makers of the Duwamish Peninsula.” Tonight, we conclude with the high-school winner:
By Halle Morgan
Bertha Ethel Knight Landes was born in 1868. She was born into a world where women couldn’t vote and where there were barely any women in politics. Landes paved the way for many, becoming the first female mayor of a major US city. All her adult life was devoted to making the city of Seattle a better place.
Landes saw the community as an extension of home and was always very active in it. She founded the Women’s City Club and played leadership roles in many organizations including the Women’s University Club, the Woman’s Century Club, the League of Women Voters, the Women’s Auxiliary of University Congregational Church, and was the president of the Washington State League of Women Voters. This leadership led her to be appointed by the mayor to serve on a commission studying unemployment.
In 1922, Landes and Katheryn Miracle were elected to serve on Seattle City Council, becoming the first women to do so. As a city council member, Landes supported city planning and zoning as well as social concerns such as hospitals and recreation programs. In 1924 when Landes was reelected, she became the council president. The mayor at the time, Edwin Brown, left the city to go to the 1924 Democratic National Convention, leaving Bertha as the acting mayor.
In 1926, Edwin Brown ran for reelection and Landes ran against him. Landes ran on a platform that emphasized “municipal housekeeping,” vowing to clean up the city government. Landes won the election by over 6,000 votes and quickly set to work. She continued to work for things she supported when she was on the city council as well as fought against bootleggers and reckless drivers.
Landes fulfilled her promise of cleaning up the government by putting the city’s financial house in order. She also improved public transportation and parks and advocated for municipal ownership of utilities such as Seattle City Light and street railways. One of her great accomplishments as the mayor was building the Civic Auditorium, which was later used for the Opera House at the 1962 World’s Fair.
A bill that Landes signed that personally affected West Seattle was Seattle Ordinance 54627, which authorized a new pump station in West Seattle, and the equipment and personnel needed to maintain it, which was much needed at the time. This measure helped get water to West Seattle residents. Previously, people on the peninsula hadn’t gotten the water they needed. There wasn’t a lot of water in the area, and the lack of water had many unfortunate health effects on people in these neighborhoods. While there was still much to be done to reform and strengthen West Seattle’s water infrastructure issues, Mayor Landes’s initiatives and legislation were able to create real change in the lives of many people living in West Seattle.
In 1928, Landes ran for reelection. Although she was supported by local newspapers and her ratings were high, Landes lost to Frank Edwards. Despite this, Bertha Landes continued being active in the community. She wrote for national newspapers and was chair of the Sewing Room Work for the Women’s Division of the Mayor’s Commission for Improved Employment. She was also the first woman to serve as moderator of Washington’s Conference of Congregational and Christian Churches.
Bertha Landes had an everlasting impact on the city of Seattle; after her time as mayor, she endlessly encouraged other women to get involved in politics. Today Bertha’s work is still in the city – the largest meeting room at the Seattle City Hall is named in her honor. The tunnel-boring machine that was used to create the tunnel in replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was named after her as well. Like how that machine paved its way through the ground, Bertha Landes paved the way for many others. With her accomplishments and encouragement, Landes convinced many women that they too, can make a difference.
“Let us, while never forgetting our womanhood, drop all emphasis on sex, and put it on being public servants.” -Bertha Landes.
(Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives)