Seattle’s first female mayor: Bertha Knight Landes

The political pioneer was also the first female mayor of any major US city


Bertha was quick on her feet and often encouraged other women to follow her footsteps.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

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With elections around the corner, we thought it was a good time to turn back the clock for a little history lesson. Did you know that Seattle played a huge part in democratic history — electing the first female mayor of any major US city in 1926?

Let us tell you a little about Bertha Knight Landes.

She liked to work fast 💪

In 1924, Seattle Mayor Edwin J. Brown named Landes — a City Councilmember at the time — as acting mayor while he traveled to New York for the Democratic National Convention.

Bertha worked... uh... efficiently in the temporary role. She declared a state of emergency and fired the city’s police chief when he refused to cut officers he had previously stated were corrupt.

Mayor Brown heard of the “commotion” and returned from his New York trip five days early, where he then reinstated the fired police chief.

Two years later, Landes campaigned to replace Brown officially and won by 6,000 votes.

She kept pretty busy 📝

Landes did some heavy lifting for public services facing major budgeting issues, like the streetcars.

She was also responsible for hosting several major historical figures like Charles Lindbergh, Queen Marie of Romania, and Will Rogers.

She may be a ghost 👻

Yup — before the now-closed Harvard Exit Theatre showed films, it hosted the Women’s Century Club, which Landes had a major role in.

In 1970, workers began to report seeing ghostly historical figures on the third and first floors and made the connection to the former mayor.

In the 1980s, some of Landes’ belongings were put on display in the Smith Tower. A worker who was arranging the exhibit saw a ghost appear to check out the handiwork. When he was shown Landes’ photo, he recognized her as the apparition.

We can neither confirm nor deny her supernatural status, but you can learn more about her historic time on this earthly plain via the Seattle City Archives and UW’s Digital Collections.