Councilmember Godden left office on January 1, 2016.
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One Hundred Years Later

Washington suffragists post bills promoting voting rights in 1909.

This month – November – we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote in our state. Washington women won the right through the Sixth Amendment to the state constitution. Passage, championed by two determined women, Emma Smith DeVoe and May Arkwright Hutton, took place a full decade before the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution granted the vote to women across the United States.

The roots of the women’s movement have grown into a critical part of our state’s political landscape. For candidates, it’s simple: If you don’t win the women’s vote, you lose. Exit polls recently showed that U. S. Sen. Patty Murray won a tough reelection campaign, propelled into office, by an overwhelming percentage of women voters in the Puget Sound region.

Women elected officials and women voters have had an outsized influence on Seattle, the state’s largest city, although it wasn’t apparent from the first days of woman’s suffrage. In fact, many of the men who voted for the Sixth Amendment – two-thirds did – were convinced that wives would merely vote the same way as their husbands.

It wasn’t until 1922 that the first women were elected to the Seattle City Council. The two were Bertha Knight Landes and Katherine Miracle, who served only one term despite having the best name of any politician.

When Bertha Landes ran for council, her husband, University of Washington Professor Henry Landes famously said, “It’s simply the natural enlargement of her sphere. Keeping house and raising a family are women’s logical tasks and, in principle, there’s no difference between running one home and a hundred thousand.”

Betha Landes became council president and, while acting as “pro tem” during Mayor Edwin J. “Doc” Brown’s absence, she fired the police chief for apparent corruption. In 1926, she ran against Brown and became the first woman mayor to head a metropolitan city. She ran an enlightened administration, fighting against bootleggers and reckless drivers. She advocated for municipal ownership of city utilities and street railways. The City Auditorium, later the Opera House, was one of her legacies.

Despite her many far-sighted accomplishments, the prevailing wisdom was that Seattle should have a man in charge. Mrs. Landes lost in 1928 to Frank Edwards.

The next woman to run for and win a seat on the Seattle City Council was Mildred Powell, a former P-TA president and protégé of Mayor Landes. Mrs. Powell, elected in 1935, would serve as the lone woman on the City Council for the next 20 years. Her position was considered “the woman’s seat.”  She resigned in 1955.

Other women came forward: Myrtle Edwards in 1960; Phyllis Lamphere in 1968; Jeanette Williams in 1970 and Dolores Sibonga in 1978. Eventually, women overcame the tradition of electing small businessmen to the council. Finally, women in office in Seattle hit a high point in 1994. When Jan Drago was elected to the council, she was the seventh woman to join. There were jokes that, maybe, they wouldn’t need a separate facility for the two men, Tom Weeks and Jim Street.

However, gender still may be a factor. By the time I was elected to the council 10 years later, I joined Jan Drago as only the second woman. With the addition of Sally Clark in 2006 and Sally Bagshaw in 2010, there are now three women and six men.

All of us owe a debt of gratitude to the women who pioneered woman’s suffrage and who worked to make women’s voices and influence a part of Washington’s history. We stand on the shoulders of those who won the long struggle.