Cotterill, George F. (George Fletcher), 1865-1958

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Mayor of Seattle, Washington State senator, and construction engineer.

George Cotterill, Seattle's assistant city engineer beginning in 1892, was instrumental in the construction of the city's first sewer system and 25 miles of bicycle paths. Cotterill was elected to the state senate in 1906, where he framed the successful amendment to the state constitution recognizing the right of female suffrage. In 1912 he was elected mayor of Seattle on a platform of moral reform and support of municipal ownership projects. After one term, he become chief engineer of the state Highway Department. In 1922 Cotterill became port commissioner, and in 1928 he published a history of the Puget Sound region, The Climax of a World Quest. Cotterill served as both Grand Secretary of the Washington State branch of the International Order of Good Templars and later as chief Templar of the national branch. President Taft appointed him to the International Congress Against Alcoholism in 1909, and Wilson re-appointed him in 1913. Cotterill worked as a draftsman in the King County Assessor's Office until the age of 84. He died in 1958.

From the description of George F. Cotterill papers, 1839-1958 (bulk 1890-1956). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 39367106

Civil servant, elected official, moral reformer, surveyor, and engineer, George Fletcher Cotterill helped shape the city of Seattle in the literal as well as the figurative sense.

Cotterill was born in England to Alice and Robert Cotterill on Nov. 18, 1865. In 1872, the Cotterill family immigrated to the United States and settled in Montclair, New Jersey. Cotterill graduated from high school as class valedictorian in 1881, and studied surveying and engineering under the tutelage of a New Jersey county engineer for the next three years. During this time he participated in the platting and construction of Arlington cemetery.

Cotterill migrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1884. For several years he worked as a surveyor on various land, mining, and railroad projects before being hired by surveyor R.H. Thomson. With Thomson, Cotterill surveyed for the city's first sewer system and platted additions to rapidly expanding Seattle. When Thomson was appointed city engineer in 1882, Cotterill became his assistant. Among his responsibilities as assistant city engineer, Cotterill was assigned to the city water department and became instrumental in the development of the Cedar River water supply. The city, needing a fresher and less expensive source of water than the Lake Washington pumping system, approved the Cedar River gravity system in the mid 1890s. At the time, the city was out of funds to pay for the new water system, and Cotterill, a member of the task force responsible for improving Seattle's water supply, proposed the novel revenue bond system for municipal ownership of public utilities. The first of its kind in the United States, this public utilities plan was approved by citizen vote in 1896. Cotterill was also involved in the project to convert the tide flats south of the city into property capable of development.

Cotterill's advocacy of public utilities drew him into the political arena. In 1900 the nonpartisan party, through which he was promoting public utilities, nominated him for mayor. Cotterill accepted the nomination contingent on backing from the Democratic Party, which he received, and he ran as a Democratic candidate. Though Cotterill had grown up a Republican, the recent campaign of William Jennings Bryan had made him a Democrat. Cotterill did not win this election or the next, but in 1906 he ran for the state senate and won. One of his principal accomplishments while in office was the framing of the successful amendment to the Washington State constitution recognizing female suffrage. Because of this amendment, he recalled later with pride, his mother had been able to cast a ballot for the first time at the age of 75. Cotterill received the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 1908 and again in 1910, but lost both times.

In 1912 Cotterill again ran for mayor, this time on a platform demanding moral reform. In an "open" city where vice had flourished since the Klondike gold rush, his campaign targeted Hiram Gill's legacy of graft in city government as well as rampant prostitution and gambling houses. Cotterill won this election, helped in part by the new ability of women to vote. Cotterill's term was punctuated by conflict and controversy, due to corruption in municipal government and the police department, labor unrest, an unsympathetic Seattle Times, and other causes. He regularly confronted opposition to his moral reform agenda, which was for the most part driven by strong temperance beliefs.

At the center of Cotterill's commitment to moral reform was his life-long crusade on behalf of temperance. His parents had joined the United Kingdom Temperance Alliance in 1865, consequently indoctrinating Cotterill from birth. As a child in England, Cotterill attended the local chapter his mother had formed of the Band of Hope, an organization for children's temperance education. Cotterill attended his first convention of the International Order of Good Templars in 1897 and remained involved in this organization for the rest of his life. He served for a time as Grand Secretary of the Washington State division and later as Chief Templar of the national division. In addition to his work with the Templars, he was a member of the Anti-Saloon League. In 1909, Cotterill was appointed by President Taft as U.S. representative to the International Congress against Alcoholism; in 1913 President Wilson reappointed him.

Cotterill did not seek a second term as mayor; instead he worked as a surveyor and engineer in private practice. From 1916 to 1919 he served as chief engineer of the state Highway Department. He returned to Seattle politics in 1922, running for Seattle port commissioner. He won, and served four consecutive three-year terms, 1922 to 1934.

Following his port commissioner post, Cotterill ran unsuccessfully for at least five various city and state offices between 1932 and 1951. He also ran for governor in 1928. Besides these campaigns, Cotterill worked a variety of jobs. Many of these were temporary positions, such as his position as consultant to the State Planning Council, and Cotterill faced some financial difficulty during the depression. He met with marginal success in his endeavors to get work under the WPA, in large part due to his advanced age. But Cotterill kept working, retiring at 84 only because he was forced out of his job as draftsman in the King County Assessor's office by a new county regulation of compulsory retirement for all employees over 70.

Cotterill was also active civically. He was a founding member of the Queen City Good Roads Club, and served as chairman of the paths committee. He was responsible for designing, surveying, and laying out over 25 miles of bicycle paths throughout Seattle, which became the basis of the city's boulevard system. He also wrote on Seattle and Northwest history, and in 1928 he published The Climax of a World Quest, a history of Puget Sound.

Cotterill's entire immediate family eventually migrated to the Puget Sound area. Cotterill married Cora Gormley in 1890, and in 1892 daughter Ruth was born. Ruth died in 1900, and George and Cora had no more children of their own. They did, however, raise a niece, Marjorie Avery nee Smith, as a foster daughter. Cora died in 1936 and Cotterill later married Katherine Owens. He died in 1958, at 92.

From the guide to the George F. Cotterill Papers, 1839-1958, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Cotterill, George F. (George Fletcher), 1865-. George F. Cotterill papers, 1839-1958 (bulk 1890-1956). University of Washington Libraries
referencedIn Gearhart, Lucy. Lucy Gearhart papers, 1834-1961. ND Univ of Washington Libraries (OCLC Worldshare ILL Beta)
referencedIn Lucy Gearhart papers, 1834-1961 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
creatorOf George F. Cotterill Papers, 1839-1958 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Smith, Joe, 1872-1962. Joe Smith papers, 1890-1962. University of Washington Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Anti-saloon League of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Bone, Homer Truett, 1883-1970. person
associatedWith Cotterill family family
associatedWith Cotterill family. family
associatedWith Gearhart, Lucy. person
associatedWith International Order of Good Templars. corporateBody
associatedWith Jones, Wesley Livsey, 1863-1932. person
associatedWith Montgomery, Robert, 1872-1936. person
associatedWith Plymouth Congregational Church (Seattle, Wash.) corporateBody
associatedWith Seattle Port Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Smith, Joe, 1872-1962. person
associatedWith Thomson, Reginald Heber, 1856-1949. person
associatedWith United States. Work Projects Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Works Progress Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith Washington State Planning Council. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Washington (State)
Washington (State)--Seattle
United States
Washington (State)
Washington (State)--King County
Seattle (Wash.)
Cedar River (King County, Wash.)
Seattle (Wash.)
Cedar River Reservoir (Wash.)
Civil engineers--Archives
Political corruption
Social reformers--Archives
Temperance--Societies, etc


Birth 1865-11-18

Death 1958-10-13



Ark ID: w6474n8f

SNAC ID: 19717833