For the first time in almost a century, Seattle will elect a female mayor.
Jenny Durkan is currently leading with Cary Moon and Nikkita Oliver not far behind. All first-time candidates. All women.
In the early 20th century, the campaign for women’s suffrage and prohibition issues brought women into the public sphere. With the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote, the idea of women in the political arena was no longer unacceptable.
Seattle was the first major city in the United States to have a woman mayor. In 1926, Bertha Knight Landes became Seattle’s first, and to date only, woman mayor. She served a single two-year term.
When Landes was defeated for re-election in 1928 by Frank Edwards, she was asked about the future of women in politics. She said, “Women now wield considerable power along political lines and I believe each succeeding year for some time to come will find them wielding that power more effectively. But … at present, men in general are not ready to yield to women the privilege and right of holding high political office.”
She wrote extensively for national magazines and encouraged other women to get involved in politics. Landes wanted to be treated equally with men and called for public service to be gender-neutral. She despised being called “mayoress.”
Landes paved the way for other women and encouraged Mildred Powell to run for City Council. Powell subsequently won office and served on the Council from 1935 to 1955. The first African American woman on City Council, Sherry Harris, was not elected until 1992 and served one term, from 1992 to 1995. In 1992, the balance of Council members shifted for the first time to include a majority of women members.
In addition to Sherry Harris, Cheryl Chow, Sue Donaldson, Jane Noland, Martha Choe, and Margaret Pageler were on City Council, comprising six out of the nine members. With the election of Jan Drago in 1994, the numbers increased to seven out of nine. Women lost their majority status in 1998.
It appears that in Seattle, men in general are now ready to yield to women the privilege and right of holding high political office, as Landes had hoped. It’s about time, Seattle.