Mercer Island Women Who Made an Impact

February 28, 2023 | by Mercer Island Historical Society

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In honor of Women’s History Month, the Mercer Island Historical Society has highlighted the achievements of four Mercer Island women – Virginia Barto, Jean Enersen, Assunta Ng, and Mary Wayte Bradburne – who made an impact in their respective fields and continue to inspire future generations. From journalism to competitive swimming, they have left a lasting legacy on the island community and beyond.

Additionally, this year the Mercer Island Historical Society begins a new partnership with the Mercer Island High School. Students in the media program will interview residents who have historical insight and memory about the island. These interviews will be broadcast on the morning program for the high school radio station, The Bridge, 88.9 FM, and also uploaded to the Mercer Island Historical Society website. If you’re interested in learning about more remarkable islanders, stay tuned!

Virginia Barto

Virginia Barto at center | Image courtesy Mercer Island Historical Society

Virginia “Ginny” Barto married Tom Barto, a classmate at Leschi Elementary School, in 1947. Seeking a rural atmosphere, they moved to Mercer Island, which was considered the countryside. The road to their house, East Mercer Way, was gravel.

In 1960, when island incorporation became an issue, Barto, always an activist, wrote to the Mercer Island Reporter (she later became the editor): “There exists an apparent and too wide-spread apathy about local problems … Island residents need to cast a vote either on the side of purposeful, intelligent INVOLVEMENT, or on the side of political indifference and APATHY. What price the irrevocably lost potential of this unique bit of land?” On July 5th, 1960, the residents voted to incorporate.

Later in the year, when the Reporter was struggling financially, Barto and two men pooled their finances and bought the newspaper. Both men had “careers,” so the job of running the newspaper and being editor fell to Barto, who “only” had five children and a husband who also had a career and was on the new City Council. Barto was the first woman editor of the Reporter. In 1963, the Reporter was sold. During this time, she also organized the first kindergartens on the island.

After an article appeared in the Reporter detailing a voluntary effort to erase unjust discrimination on Mercer Island, Barto helped found “The Committee of Ten” in 1964. The by-laws state that “because of a shared concern that civil rights be accorded all Americans … The Committee of Ten was formed: to learn as much as possible about conditions and needs where discrimination exists; to pass on such knowledge to others in the community and to raise funds for support of most urgent needs not being met by other groups.” Included in the goals was to “welcome, as residents in our neighborhood, persons of good character regardless of race, color, creed or national origin.”

Jean Enersen

Jean Enersen | Photo courtesy Mercer Island Historical Society

Mercer Island High School and Stanford graduate, Jean Enersen was the first female local news anchor in the country.

She started her career as a reporter at KPIX-TV in San Francisco, returning to Seattle in 1968 for a job in the KING newsroom. She was one of only two women and has since recounted experiences of sexism from male co-workers.

After four years in the newsroom, Enersen became the first female local news anchor in the country in 1972. Even Dorothy Bullitt, the first woman to own a television station, was unsure how women would be received by audiences. Women, who had previously been limited to roles as clerical workers, “weather girls,” and occasionally field reporters, slowly began to fill local anchor chairs.

Enersen was the first local TV journalist to report from China in 1979, after the U.S. established diplomatic relations. In 1988, she was the first journalist to report from the USSR, appearing for both KING-TV and a Soviet morning show.

After 42 years, Enersen retired as a news anchor in 2014, and from KING in 2016.

Assunta Ng

Assunta Ng | Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images

Mercer Island resident, Assunta Ng, is the publisher of Northwest Asian Weekly and the Seattle Chinese Post, based in Seattle’s International District.

Ng was born in China and raised in Hong Kong. In 1971 at age 19, she immigrated to the United States to attend the University of Washington. While at UW, she wrote for the student newspaper, the DailyShe earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies and education in 1974, a teaching certificate in 1976, and a master’s degree in communications in 1979.

After college, Ng taught at Beacon Hill’s Mercer Junior High School for four years. Language barriers made it difficult for immigrant parents, who were often struggling to make a living and survive. She reached out to them, translating forms and visiting their homes.

When the Watergate story broke, people in Seattle’s Chinatown lined up to buy copies of San Francisco’s Chinese newspaper. They were trying to understand what was happening. Seeing a need, she founded the Seattle Chinese Post in 1982 and the Northwest Asian Weekly a year later.

In 1986, Ng was one of 15 women who joined the Seattle chapter of Rotary International, before the parent organization allowed women to join.

In 1996, Ng founded Women of Color Empowered, a tri-annual networking luncheon series that honors women of color who have made an impact in their local communities. Through the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, Ng has organized programs and scholarships to help disadvantaged youth and women.

Mary Wayte Bradburne

Mary Wayte Bradburne | Photo courtesy Mercer Island Historical Society

Mercer Island native Mary Wayte Bradburne is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and has a total of four Olympic medals.

Wayte began swimming on the island as a young girl, joining the Mercerdale Swimming Club, which is now the Mercer Island Youth & Family Services Thrift Store. She also swam with the Chinook Aquatic Club. While in high school, she won state swimming titles in five different events.

After graduating from Mercer Island High School, she accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida. While at the University of Florida, she won individual NCAA national titles in the 100-yard freestyle, the 400-yard individual medley, and she was a member of the Gators’ NCAA championship relay teams for three consecutive years (1984, 1985, 1986). She won eight NCAA championships in three years. She also won 11 individual Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships and was a member of 10 SEC championship relay teams. Wayte was the SEC Swimmer of the Year in 1985, and received a total of twenty-six All-American honors in her four years as a collegiate swimmer.

From 1981 to 1988, Wayte was a member of the U.S. national swim team, competing in major international championships. At the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Wayte won her first Olympic gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle event by defeating a former world record-holder. She won her second Olympic gold medal as a member of a 4×100 meter freestyle relay team.

Four years later, at the Seoul 1988 Summer Olympics, she won a silver medal as a member of a 4×100 meter medley relay team and a bronze medal with a third place 4×100 meter freestyle relay team.

Wayte was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998, the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Pacific Northwest Swimming Hall of Fame in 2004. In August 1984, King County formally renamed the Mercer Island Forward Thrust swimming pool the “Mary Wayte Pool.”

Article courtesy of the Mercer Island Historical Society. Founded in 1954, it is one of the oldest organizations on the Island.  For more information, go to  You can browse 32 years of past issues  of the Mercer Island Reporter at