Let’s remember when Bertha Landes was elected as the first big-city, female Mayor in the US, on this day in 1926 (March 9)
In 1926, Seattle made history by becoming the first big city in the US to elect a woman as Mayor. Bertha Landes was elected to a single, two-year term. She was a polarizing mayor, and a very consequential one, for better and sometimes worse.
On March 9, 1926, Bertha Knight Landes (1868–1943) is elected mayor of Seattle, becoming the first woman executive of a major American city. Serving only a single two-year term, she followed through on her pledge to perform “municipal housekeeping” and led an honest, scandal-free administration.
Landes campaigned as a reformer set on cleaning up the city, and she largely did,
Looking back, Mental Floss said:
Landes was serious about “closing the town” to illegal liquor, and during her tenure as mayor, the number of annual arrests for alcohol violations more than doubled. Speakeasies fled across the Seattle city line into the rest of King County, which retained its lackadaisical Prohibition enforcement. Landes also worked to root out corruption in the police department and shut down illegal gambling and prostitution. “Vice and lawlessness cannot be completely eradicated,” she later wrote, “But open flagrant violations of law should not be tolerated for an instant.”
In addition to campaigning as a moral reformer, Landes had emphasized her commitment to the bottom line. Upon taking office, she inherited a city-owned streetcar system that was hemorrhaging money. Her administration overhauled the system’s budget, cut back on less-used routes, and appealed to Washington state to refinance the entire railway, making Seattle’s streetcars profitable. A supporter of municipally owned utilities, she also cut expenses in the water department and maintained public control of City Light, the local electricity utility, which faced an attempted private takeover.
Landes was successful in bringing about much-needed reforms to the Seattle Police Department, including firing the chief while she was acting mayor when he declined to fire 100 police officers accused of corruption. The headlines were predictably sexist. Also see:
But, Landes also staked a lot of her political capital on enforcing Prohibition, which was deeply immoral.
Being a reformer made her a lot of political enemies, and she was out after just one term. It would be over 90 years before Seattle saw another female mayor, and one that didn’t have the same commitment to police reform.
For further reading:
Bertha Knight Landes was Seattle's first and only (so far) female mayor-and the first woman elected mayor of a major…mentalfloss.com