We named a piece of machinery after a woman and thought that was flattery. Let that sink in. And when that contraption, said to be one of the largest underground boring drills ever built, failed and failed some more—running aground in its dig of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel in late 2013 and again throughout 2014 and early 2015—the name Bertha became shorthand for hubris and dysfunction.
But throughout her life Bertha Landes demonstrated neither: Seattle’s first female mayor (elected in 1926), pioneer in police reform, and a champion of public transit—you’ll see Landes invoked throughout this special issue of Seattle Met, an issue hailing this moment in our city. In nearly every realm, women rule.
Let’s not rejoice yet though. After all, our city’s gender pay gap is among the worst in the country, and last summer, The Seattle Times reported that just four CEOs—four!—of the 96 public companies in the Northwest are women. Meanwhile, casual sexism and outright harassment still pervade tech, our most high-profile and influential industry.
Bertha Landes’s eponymous drill finally completed its mission in 2017—the very year that launched a nationwide movement, starting with the Women’s March. That movement is, in part, a backlash to the misogyny that put an unapologetic misogynist in the White House. And Landes would have found a familiar ring in the contemptuous rhetoric (“such a nasty woman”) that paved our current POTUS’s rise to power. In her bid for a second term, her challenger, a theater operator and show barker named Frank Edwards, referred to Landes as a “hostile or infuriated woman.” He refused to debate her in public and made gender a key component of his campaign.
Landes lost, and it would take nearly a century before we’d elect a second female mayor, former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan. That legacy, from Bertha to Jenny, is a simultaneous reminder of how far we’ve come and how we’ve barely moved an inch.