Remembering Remarkable Women of Washington–Happy Women’s History Month

“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.” –The Honorable Bertha Knight Landes, First Woman Elected Mayor of Seattle


Because it is Women’s History Month, we’d like to introduce you to—or reacquaint you with—some women who helped make this city and state a little more interesting.  Some names you may recognize from 8th grade Civics class and some may be new to you; regardless, we think these women were pretty special in the work they did and when they did it.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. What many of us may not realize is that five states already recognized a woman’s right to vote, and Washington was one of them. In fact, in 1912, two women were elected to the Washington State Legislature: Nena J. Croake and Frances Axtell. Mrs. Axtell, an Illinois native and suffragette,  held a PhD from DePauw University, was a teacher and raised a family in Bellingham before running for office. (You are welcome to visit her final resting place at  Washelli Columbarium, where her ashes rest next to those of her husband and her daughter in the area known as the Bronze Room.)

The same year Mesdames Croake and Axtell ran for office, a Columbia University graduate named Effie Isobel Raitt joined the faculty at the University of Washington. Home Economics is thought of as “girly” pursuit now, but a hundred years ago it was a new academic discipline preparing students for careers in textiles, nutrition and a number of other fields. Effie Raitt was the Chair of the Home Economics Department for more than thirty years and Raitt Hall at UW is named in her honor. You are welcome to  pay your respects to her as her grave is located in Evergreen Memorial Park, Section 1.  Stop by and say hello.                                                                                                                                                                              

In 1976, the Seattle Police Department had nine female graduates join their ranks. Commonly known as “the First Nine,” these women overcame huge hurdles in order to make their mark and prove their worth as cops. But they weren’t the first on the force: in 1915 a woman named Sylvia Hunsicker joined the Seattle Police Department as a… well, a police officer. Until that time some cities, including this one, hired women only as “matrons.” Their role was to assist the women who came into the care of the police with hygiene issues, clothing and other personal needs that the male officers couldn’t appropriately address. But Sylvia was the first full-fledged policewoman. There was no uniform, so Officer Hunsicker sewed her own. She walked a beat on the Seattle Waterfront for almost twenty years. You may pay your respects to her in Evergreen Memorial Park, Section 17.

Officer Sylvia Hunsicker

As time marched on and the 1920’s roared in, local women were becoming more involved in politics: Bertha Knight Landes and Kathryn Miracle became members of the Seattle City Council, with Mrs. Landes going on to become Mayor of Seattle in 1926. She was the first woman to be elected Mayor of a large American city, and while she only served one term in that office, her mark was left forever. Mildred Towne Powell served on the Seattle City Council for twenty years (1935-1955),  the only woman serving on the council during that time and  the second-longest serving woman ever on the Seattle City Council. She died in 1977 and if you care to visit, her grave is in Evergreen Memorial Park, Section 7.

While women were making strides in local politics, a young widow who had inherited a struggling real estate business decided to take a chance on radio. Dorothy Stimson Bullitt bought an AM radio station in 1947, and changed the call letters to KING. Two years later she purchased a television station and the communications company known as KING Broadcasting began to grow, becoming a network affiliate and going on to win numerous prizes in broadcast journalism. A native Washingtonian who loved the majesty of the Pacific Northwest, Mrs. Bullitt  began the Bullitt Foundation in 1952. The Foundation is still going strong, promoting conservation and environmentalism. The Bullitts are buried in Washelli Cemetery, in the Sleepy Hollow Section.

Here at Evergreen Washelli, we value history and the people who make it. Every person here, be they laid to rest or memorialized with a cenotaph, made his or her own contribution to the world. Some are tiny moments from brief lives; others are great feats of courage or creativity. Whoever they are–whoever they were—we know that there is something to be learned from almost everyone. We hope this little history lesson reminds people that each of us has a contribution to make, and there are so very many ways in which to make it.

~~Mary Gibbons


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