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In Honor of Women's History Month:
Recognizing Mercer Island Women
Who Made an Impact

March 25, 2024

When Lynn Oliver signed on as Mercer Island Fire Division Chief in 1983, she was rare enough as a female in a male-dominated profession, but she was also the first woman fire chief in the entire country. She oversaw a department with 21 full-time and 16 auxiliary fire fighters and administered the myriad of details involved in running a department.

As the first woman fire chief she felt the burden of being the first, of wanting to prove herself and and to be an example for women's abilities in the industry.

With a degree in education she started as an elementary school teacher. She moved to Seattle and although she planned to teach she took a job working on the City of Seattle's fire prevention staff and found she had a passion for fire safety education. When she became the deputy fire marshal for King County, she realized fire safety had become her career.

Oliver was Mercer Island's Fire Chief from 1983-1992, when she left to take a similar position in Kirkland.

Mercer Island's only female firefighter was Pauline Reed McKay who started as a volunteer in 1974, and later became an auxiliary firefighter.


Caroline Fraser was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for biography for "Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder." Her book also received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the 2018 Heartland Prize for non-fiction and was named one of the 10 best books of 2018 by The New York Times.

The Pulitzer prize is considered the country's top literary award. Her book describes how Wilder transformed her family's story of poverty, failure and struggle into a tale of self-reliance, perseverance and a close family relationship.

Fraser was formerly on the editorial staff of The New Yorker, was a writer for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, Outside Magazine and The London Review of Books. She also served as the editor of the Library of America edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.


In 1980, Beth Bland was elected the first female mayor of Mercer Island; there have been two others since then, Judy Clibborn and Debbie Bertlin.

A lawyer, Bland became interested in politics as a member of the League of Women Voters. She was involved in Island PTAs and served on the board of Youth Eastside Services.

When she was elected to the City Council in 1978, her primary goal was strengthening the central business district. Other goals included working toward the completion of I-90, better soccer fields, cooperation between the City and the School District. She also considered the possibility of traffic lights in the town center.

She was the Mercer Island representative to the Metro Council (now the Puget Sound Regional Council) and served on Metro's water quality related committees. She chaired the effort to site the secondary sewage treatment plant at Discovery Park, contrary to Seattle's preference for the Duwamish Valley.

As mayor she was instrumental in restoring federal funds for the I-90 project and completing an agreement with the school district to convert the old Mercer View School to a community center, (also the location of the current Community Center). Her regrets were the slow progress in revitalizing the business district and the hesitancy of residents to get involved in local affairs.

Bland served two terms as mayor and remained on the Council for two more years, retiring in 1985.

Another female “pioneer” in the Island’s history is Dr. Bernice Cohen Sachs, M.D.

Dr. Sachs was a pioneer woman physician, graduating from the University of Michigan with distinction. She completed her residency at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.

Dr. Sachs moved to Seattle in 1949 and practiced psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine at Group Health Cooperative for 48 years. During those years she received many honors, including the prestigious Elizabeth Blackwell award.

Dr. Sachs was the first woman president of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine. She also served on many community boards and numerous medical societies, becoming president of the American Medical Woman’s Association, the Washington Academy of Clinical Hypnosis, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the Seattle Medical Women’s Association, the American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. Sachs and her husband, Dr. Allan Sachs were instrumental in establishing the Jewish Community Center.

Dr. Bernice Cohen Sachs died in 2010, at the age of 91.