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In 1920, women took over Langley and made things respectable

See what happened when women held every office

The men said, “See if you can do better.”; and the women did. It was 1920. Women finally got the vote back. As we wrote about recently, they had it for a while when Washington was a territory, and then lost it. Washington became a state in 1889, and granted women the vote in 1910 - before the rest of the country got around to ratifying the 19th Amendment. It was a messy, chaotic time for a relatively new state.

The Eastern Washington farmers thought women voters would help “clean up the morals of the territory.” The residents and politicians in Langley on Whidbey Island made it more of a challenge. They told the women that, if they thought they could run the city better, they should try.

Surprise. They did, and succeeded.

In the election of 1919, Langley’s residents voted in the first all-women city government in Washington State. (They almost grabbed the honor of first in the nation, but Kanab, Utah got there first.) Helen Coe was mayor. Grace English, Emma Monson, Clara Brown, and Margaret MacLeod were the city council.

Whidbey was known for lumber, farming, a bit of rum-running, and as a destination for the fight matches that weren’t allowed in oh-so-civilized Seattle. Drinking was curtailed but not stopped. Movies were regulated and dances were made more family-friendly. The biggest differences, though, were the very things that turned Langley from a frontier town to a place a bit more refined. Livestock were no longer allowed to roam freely. Sidewalks were built. Burned buildings were razed. Trash removed. The lights were left on longer. Eventually, a library was established. The town’s reputation began to shift to something more respectable.

It didn’t happen without resistance. Getting people to clean up their space takes some convincing, just like trying to get kids to clean up their rooms. The political shift meant a series of marshals took and then abandoned the job. At least one protest pointed out the potholes weren’t getting fixed. A group of men turned one into a fishing hole - while standing on the new sidewalk.

The next administration also had a woman for mayor. Margaret MacLeod moved from councilwoman to mayor. The gender politics shifted back, but the changes had been made and the precedent set.