Landes, Bertha Knight (1868–1943)

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Landes, Bertha Knight (1868–1943)

Mayor of Seattle, Washington (1926), who was the first woman elected to lead a major American city. Born Bertha Ethel Knight in Ware, Massachusetts, on October 19, 1868; died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on November 29, 1943; youngest of nine children of Charles Sanford Knight (a painter and real estate agent) and Cordelia (Cutter) Knight; attended public and private schools; graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1891; married Henry Landes (a college professor), on January 2, 1894; children: Katherine Landes (b. 1896); Kenneth Landes (b. 1899); (adopted) Viola Landes .

The first woman elected mayor of a major American city, Bertha Landes was born in 1868 in Ware, Massachusetts, and raised in neighboring Worcester. She was an 1891 graduate of Indiana University and taught school in Worcester before marrying Henry Landes, a fellow student at Indiana. The couple began married life in Rockland, Maine, where Henry was the high school principal for a year, and in 1895, when he joined the faculty of the University of Washington, they settled in Seattle. The couple had two children of their own, Katherine (b. 1896) and Kenneth (b. 1899), and adopted a daughter, Viola.

Bertha Landes was extremely active in the club movement during World War I and was elected to the Seattle city council in 1922. Reelected to a second term, she rose to become president of the council in 1924. One of her responsibilities in that post was to act as mayor during any absences of the elected mayor, Edwin J. Brown. It was on one of these occasions that Landes, in a dramatic effort to draw attention to illegal gambling and other vices ignored by the police force, fired the chief of police. Although the chief was reinstated upon Brown's return, Landes had made her point. In 1926, she ran a vigorous campaign against Brown and was elected.

During her two-year term, Landes attempted to rescue Seattle from the patronage system that allowed gambling and vice to flourish, but she was only marginally successful and was not elected to a second term. Some historians cite her support of Prohibition as the cause for her defeat, while others believe that she simply did not possess the political skills necessary to justify her causes and maintain her office. Sandra Haarsager , an assistant professor of communication at the University of Idaho, suggests that Landes was the victim of gender bias and negative campaigning. Whatever the case, Landes, then 60, did not run again for public office but remained active on the club front, serving a term as president of both the state's League of Women Voters and the American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs. Landes died in 1943, at age 75.


Haarsager, Sandra. Bertha Knight Landes of Seattle: Big-City Mayor. University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Publishers Weekly. January 24, 1994.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts