Seattle hasn't had a female mayor in 91 years, but that will soon change

Bertha Knight Landes is the only female mayor Seattle’s had to date. (Image: Seattle Municipal Archieves.) 

A woman hasn't served in the Seattle mayor's office for 91 years, but after the first round of primary results on Tuesday, that trend will soon change.

Bertha Knight Landes made history when she won the election for Seattle mayor in 1926 – just six years after the 19th Amendment of the Constitution was passed, giving women the right to vote. Landes made national headlines for being the first female mayor to preside over a major U.S. city, and historians credit her with leading an honest, scandal-free administration.




Four years later, Landes lost her bid for a second term to Frank Edwards, a former theater operator
who didn't even show up to a debate against her.

According to a biography by the Washington secretary of state, at the debate, Landes sat on a platform next to an empty chair and posed this question to the audience: Can it be true that a man is afraid of a woman?

Even before former Mayor Ed Murray's said he would not seek re-election in the wake of a sex abuse lawsuit, thought pieces were circulating about why Seattle hasn't seen a woman in office since Landes' term and whether it was time for the city to change that.

Emma Rodman, whose graduate work at the University of Washington focuses on women running for office, told SeattleMet that Landes' loss still may be influencing Seattle politics. Rodman said longtime gender disparity in political positions can happen as women get discouraged by historical patterns, such as men continuously winning mayoral bids.




Meanwhile, other reports suggest that women in Washington prefer to go for bigger seats in the state Legislature or U.S. Congress.

Phyllis Lamphere, the last women to make a serious run for mayor in Seattle in 1977, attested that, while in the race, she knew “other pastures were calling.”

But in an editorial for Crosscut in 2013, she reminded readers that the political atmosphere decades ago looked differently at women running for office.

“Back then, any misstep by a woman candidate or officeholder raised questions about all women candidates,” she wrote.

Some politicians say hurdles still remain for women on the campaign trail, but Washington has been a standout state for women in higer political positions. Sen. Patty Murray has been in the U.S. Senate since 1992, and Rep. Maria Cantwell took office in 2001.

And now, for the first time in nearly a century, Seattle will possibly see two female contenders on the ballot.

After the August primary, former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan was the front runner of the Seattle mayor's race with more than a dozen candidates vying for the lead. Cary Moon came in second.




Here's background on these candidates.

Jenny Durkan


Durkan earned her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law and served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington under President Barack Obama from October 2009 through September 2014.

"I am so honored that the voters of seattle have affirmed what we've known, that this election is about the future of Seattle," Durkan said after the initial response. "Thank you."

Some believe her efforts in the area of police accountability and civil rights best define her time as a U.S. attorney. Read more about Durkan here.

Cary Moon


Moon is an urban planner and engineer best known for her activism against the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel. She is a member of – but currently on a leave of absence from – the board of directors of the Progress Alliance and the One Center City Advisory Board.

"Seattle’s voters won’t let the future of our city be sunk by status quo thinking and politics as usual. There is too much at stake. We look forward to the next few days of returns from King County elections," Moon said in a statement after the first round of results.

Moon cites traffic congestion, expensive rents, and surging homelessness as some of the city's biggest challenges. Read more about Moon here.