Bertha Landes

Portrait of Bertha Landes by Violet Depintrix
Portrait of Bertha Landes by Violet Depintrix, CC BY-NC

by Eunhee Esther Kim

In 1926, Bertha Landes was the first womxn to be elected as mayor in part of a major U.S. city; Seattle. She brought a vision to clean up the corrupted city streets, and improve the public services.

Bertha Landes met her husband, Henry Landes, while attending Indiana University. She raised a family of three children in Worcester, Massachusetts until her husband was offered a job as a professor of geology at the University of Washington in 1895. The whole family packed their bags and moved across the country towards their new city.

In Seattle, Bertha Landes played major leading roles in several womxn organizations, such as the Womxn’s University Club, the Womxn’s Century Club, the League of Womxn Voters, and the Womxn’s Auxiliary of University Congregational Church. Landes’ political career began when the president of the Chamber of Commerce recognized her great leadership from organizing a weeklong Womxn’s Educational Exhibit for Washington Manufacturers that brought the hopes up for the business community during a time of severe recession. This recognition resulted in her being appointed into a five-member commission for an unemployment study in the city. A year later, Landes and another womxn named, Kathryn Miracle, were the first womxn to be elected to serve in the Seattle city council.

On March 9, 1926, Landes defeated Edwin J. Brown by about 6,000 votes, and became the first womxn mayor of the city. She went right to work in cleaning up the city of police corruption, bootleggers, reckless drivers, and many more. One of the well-known actions she took during her time as an acting mayor was firing the city’s police chief William B. Severyns after denying Landes’ request to remove all the corrupt policemen who were not doing their jobs in cleaning up or watching over the city. She continued to push for an honest and scandal-free city while also improving the public services, like transportation and parks, that were offered in the city. One of her projects was the Civic Auditorium, which was later renovated in 1962, as the Seattle Opera House.

Despite the high endorsements she received from many Seattle newspapers and organizations, Bertha Landes was not reelected for a second mayoral term. Her passion to serve and improve the community continued through the additional leadership positions she took on as the first womxn to serve as Moderator of Washington’s Conference of Congregational and Christian Churches. She also wrote for national magazines in hopes of encouraging other womxn to get involved in politics and develop their own voices. Becoming the first womxn mayor of a major U.S. city, Landes left a legacy that showed her determination in keeping a safe and clean environment for the city, even after the challenges she faced to get where she is.


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