SheHeroes in History: Susanna Madora Salter

Here at SheHeroes we not only love to share stories about SheHeroes out and about making the world a better place today, but we also love to share stories of SheHeroes from history. One of my personal favorite SheHeroes in history, America's first female mayor.

As it turned out America’s first female mayor holds another title as well, America’s first female elected to office. Any office. Susanna Madora Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887. That was the same year that the Kansas state legislature gave women in Kansas the right to vote in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class cities. Argonia was 3rd class so ladies were able to vote in that year’s local election.

A Women’s Christian Temperance Union had been established in 1883. In 1887, with Salter acting as president, with the right to vote they created a caucus (the W.C.T.U.).  The caucus decided to select a ticket of men that they deemed worthy of the town’s office.

A group of men in town, still feeling that politics and voting was a man’s domain, decided to teach these ladies a lesson. They created a ticket that was an exact replica of the ticket the women had chosen, which the men did not care for, except they replaced the mayor’s name with Salter’s.

They assumed that only the 20 women in the caucus would vote for Salter and the group would be embarrassed by their loss. Back then candidates did not have to file until Election Day, so her name could be entered without her knowing ahead of time. When early voters discovered the surprise, delegates were sent to pay Salter a visit and explain the prank. Not only did Salter agree to accept the position if won she agreed to teaching the pranksters a lesson.

Salter, along with the delegates, spent the day campaigning in town. By the end of that day she had won a 2/3 majority. What began as a prank to teach some politically minded ladies a lesson ended with the first female elected to public office in the history of the United States.

Salter only served one term as mayor of Argonia. Though it turned out to be a fairly uneventful term, it began a ripple effect throughout the country. In the next year 5 more towns would not only go on to elect female mayors but entire city councils made up of women. And the landscape for SheHeroes in politics would forever be changed.

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