Up on a Pedestal: Where are Seattle’s Women?


Although short of statues of generals on horseback, Seattle does have a problem when it comes to heroic statuary. When thumbing through my copy of “Art in Seattle’s Public Spaces,” I counted dozens of statues of men but hardly any of women.  It’s as if the city were a boys-only club.

Among examples of men we esteem are the monumental statue of John Harte McGraw, the state’s second governor, at Fifth and Olive, and the once-gilded statue of Chief Seattle at Tilikum Place. The city’s namesake is further honored with a bust in Pioneer Square. The statue of George Washington, a target during Black Lives Matter protests, still stands atop a towering pedestal on the University of Washington campus, gazing to the west. The first president’s profile also is featured in Buster Simpson’s George Monument, a wind vane that turns and morphs into Chief Seattle’s head. The aluminum artwork stands in a plaza at the Washington Convention Center in Freeway Park.

Seattle boasts memorial tributes to Judge Thomas Burke, who was especially good at railroads (Volunteer Park), and the Rev. Mark Matthews, one of Seattle’s most colorful preachers.  Bronze plaques salute businessmen Albert Sperry Kerry and D. E. Skinner, who helped develop the downtown Metropolitan Tract. Not to be forgotten is a bas relief of pioneer millowner Henry Yesler at the King County Courthouse where Martin Luther King Jr., the county’s namesake, is honored with etched tributes in the lobby and in the corridor leading to the Third Avenue exit.

A seven-foot Ken Griffey Jr. swings his bat outside Century Link Field, while Ivar Hagland is caught feeding the gulls on the waterfront. William H. Seward, the driving force behind this country’s purchase of Alaska from Russia, is captured in bronze at Volunteer Park. Men everywhere — there are even statues to men who never got around to visiting Seattle: Norse explorer Leif Eriksson, communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. A controversial statue of Christopher Columbus, slammed as “the world’s ugliest statue,” overlooked the Seattle waterfront before it was vandalized and removed for renovation to a warehouse on West Marginal Way.

Difficult to characterize according to gender is the tribute to kids’ TV show entertainer J. P. Patches and his sidekick Gertrude (“the most beautiful woman at the Seattle Dump”). The statue titled “Late for the Interurban” shows the zany pair cavorting on a Fremont sidewalk.

Along with the many tributes of specific men, the city also is hip deep in statues of symbolic guys. One could start with Hammering Man who keeps pounding his wrist four times a minute at First and University and who supposedly “symbolizes the worker in all of us” – all the guys anyway. The Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Pioneer Square memorializes all members of the Seattle Fire Department who have died in the line of duty.  At the entrance to the Olympic Sculpture Park stand sculptures of naked males labeled “Father and Son.” Then we’ve got memorials to fighting men like The Hiker, remembering Americans lost in the Spanish American War, at Woodland Park and the politically troublesome Doughboy who was relocated from the Seattle Center to Washelli Cemetery.

Statues of symbolic women, when they do appear, are often accessories like the mom cradling a child at Fremont’s “Waiting for the Interurban” or the two women joggers that accompany a trio of male runners in “Ten Feet into the Future” at the Elliott Avenue Building.

When trying to tally tributes to identifiable women, I could only count three. A statue of Sadako Sasaki, survivor of Hiroshima, stands at Peace Park, across from the University Friends Meeting Hall. Sadako believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would be cured of leukemia, but later succumbed, age 12. Vandalized in 2002, Sadako’s statue has since been restored and is often shown draped with colorful paper cranes.

A second tribute honors Hannah Newman, wife of one-time Klondike Packer Jack Newman. When Newman commissioned a statue honoring his first love, Mollie Walsh, the “Angel of White Pass,” Hannah was irate. To keep marital peace, Jack arranged for a dinner-sized bronze tribute of Hannah (“who once owned the land”) to be affixed to the side of the Washington Athletic Club at Sixth and Union.

The third instance of a tribute to an identifiable woman, Nellie Cornish, founder of the Cornish College for the Arts, resulted in an unintended irony. The two memorial fountains, located in the waters beside the 520 Bridge, constantly clogged with milfoil, seldom functioned, and eventually were replaced by a pair of upside-down metal pyramids titled “Aurora Borealis.”

There’s no denying that it’s way past time for Seattle to identify prominent women who deserve a statue should any park or street corner ever happen to need one. After asking around, I got loads of suggestions. One source argued for a statue to the Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, who may be the greatest athlete in city history. She elevated the U.S. national team with five Olympic gold medals and, where Seattle has seen numerous athletes leave to play elsewhere, Suzanne Brigit Bird stayed and helped the team win four WNBA championships.

Then here’s Bertha Knight Landes, first woman to head a major U. S. city, who is now recognized only by a reupholstered chair displayed in a room at City Hall. Other women mentioned are standouts like photographer Imogen Cunningham; authors Betty MacDonald and Mary McCarthy; KING-TV founder Dorothy Bullitt; and trailblazing Seattle School Board member Dorothy Hollingworth, director of Seattle’s first Head Start program.

There’s also Marjorie Pitter King, the Garfield grad who became the first Black woman to serve in state Legislature; Princess Angeline (Kikisoblu), determined eldest daughter of Chief Seattle, who is said to have conveyed a warning from her father to Seattle citizens warning then of an imminent attack; and Ruby Chow, a no-nonsense community activist, restaurateur and King County councilmember who earlier helped elect the Seattle’s first Asian city councilmember by persuading Chinese restaurants to hand out fortune cookies that read, “It is wise to vote for Wing Luke.”

Perhaps my favorite of the dozens of women who can and should be recognized is Catherine Broshears Maynard, second wife of Seattle pioneer Dr. David S. Maynard. Catherine helped her husband treat patients, nursed the sick, cared for new mothers, and opened the city’s first reading room. After the good doctor died, Catherine established a clinic in Ellensburg, traveling solo by horseback back and forth over the pass with medical supplies in her saddlebags. Catherine outlived her husband by 23 years, finally “retiring” to a cabin in Seattle. When questioned about the early days, the aging Catherine said she’d reply only if paid 25 cents a word. Her famous fine words are Catherine’s epitaph at Lake View Cemetery: “She did what she could.”

1 Notes: I was looking through the guide’s 2018 version by James Rupp with photos by Miguel Edwards, as well as the 1992 version that Rupp authored with photographs by Mary Randlett.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.


  1. Statues of men who may have been hailed in their time often do not stand the test of time. But if there was to be a statue of an important Seattle woman, in her time, that should have been Bertha Knight Landes, as Jean mentioned. Serving from 1926 to 1928, she was the first female mayor of a major American City. But chiseled stone likenesses of notables of the moment tend to lose their aura in time. One of the finest monuments I’ve ever seen is the Vietnam War Memorial Wall on the Capitol Mall. In a long stretch of polished granite it carries the names of men and women who died in that war. No generals are mentioned.

  2. Mea culpa. I shamefully neglected to mention our many great women artists, among them Gwendolyn Knight, Doris Chase, Patti Warashina and Barbara Earl Thomas. There are so many others worthy of honoring.

  3. Interesting, that nearly all of the names mentioned in comments belong to women in the arts and sports, true achievers, obviously. There are also deserving female educators, women in government, science such as Alice Ball, a UW graduate who pioneered a treatment for leprosy, and others.

  4. This could very well end up being Jean Godden’s legacy: a wide variety of statues, plaques, and memorials honoring women in arts, medicine, science, politics, activism, sports, academia, and more.

  5. I second Gordon’s vote for Ernestine Anderson. There is a building named after her—a low-income residence for seniors at 20th and Jackson—but in her case, too much is never enough. Many years ago, I hired her to do an ad for Ivar’s (her very cool jazz arrangement of The Old Settlers Song, if you can imagine that), and the three hours I spent with her in a recording studio comprise a high point of my life.

  6. Great piece, Jean, to get this conversation going. I would add one of your friends and mine, Phyllis Lamphere, a Seattle civic leader and former Chair of the National League of Cities.

  7. I would also add Phyllis Lamphere to the list. Got to work with her in the early 1990s, and it was a real treat. Amazing person, greatly missed. It would be so much fun to hear her thoughts about all the goings on today.


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