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Remembering Seattle's first woman mayor during Women's History Month

Bertha Landes was not only Seattle's first woman mayor, she was the first woman to be mayor of any major American city.

SEATTLE — March is women's history month and the city of Seattle has many female trailblazers to celebrate. 

One of them shook up the political scene and became the first woman elected mayor of Seattle, or of any major American city. 

Bertha Knight Landes came to Seattle with her husband, Henry Landes, in the 1890s. 

“He was a geologist and for a time was the temporary president at the University of Washington,” said historian Feliks Banel. 

Banel says his research about Bertha had him making calls to her hometown of Worcester, Mass. 

“They hadn’t even heard of her! She was the first female mayor of a major metropolitan city and already forgotten by her hometown,” Banel said. 

During her time living in the Emerald City, Bertha left her mark.

Bertha was a civic leader and passionate about advancing women's rights. She was elected to the Seattle city council in 1922 and became council president in 1924. She didn’t wait for permission to make big decisions about a city that was battling gambling, alcohol and prostitution. 

While acting as deputy mayor she flexed her temporary powers to fire the police chief for what she believed was corruption and conspiring with bootleggers.

Landes was elected at the age of 58 and became mayor during a time of incredible growth for Seattle.

The suburbs were sprawling and Banel says she faced familiar struggles. 

“A lot of the same issues around transportation, around unhoused people and many who were economically disadvantaged, she was dealing with many of the same issues 100 years ago,” he said. 

Her term was just two years and her vow to clean up corruption was cut short, but her legacy remains. She’s buried next to her husband and other family members in Seattle’s Evergreen Washelli Cemetery. Her small marker simply lists her formal information. “Bertha K. Landes 1868-1943.” Her husband, the geologist, is remembered with a boulder that holds his marker. Several of their children are remembered as well as their adopted daughter, Viola.

Bertha Knight Landes never ran for another political position. She and her husband led some University of Washington students on research trips to Asia and she lived alone in her apartment for several years after Henry Landes passed away in 1936. She lived in California for a few years and died at the age of 75 in her son’s home in Michigan.

The Landes family is remembered at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery at 11111 Aurora Ave N, Seattle, WA 98133.


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