While researching my latest release Angelina’s Resolve I found many interesting women who fought for women’s suffrage in the 1800s. But one that is little known yet significant is Susanna M. Salter. She was the first woman elected mayor. She served one term as mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887.
Susanna was born in Ohio in 1860 and died in 1961 at 101.
Her family moved to Kansas when Susanna was twelve to homestead. After high school, she attended Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University). It surprised me to learn she skipped her freshmen year because of all the college credit she earned while in high school. But she never completed college because of an illness her senior year, which forced her to quit. At college she met Lewis Allison Salter, an aspiring attorney. They married and moved to Argonia, Kansas. Susanna was active in the local chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party. She met Carrie Nation a temperance activist as her own popularity grew as a temperance activist. Susanna did all this while raising nine children.
A few weeks prior to Argonia’s election, women were giving the right to vote in Kansas. Yes, that’s over 30 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. A group of men put Salters on the ballet as a joke. They hoped her loss would discourage women from being active in politics.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Susanna had no idea her name was on the ballet until election morning. Word spread quickly. And the Women’s Temperance Union voted for her rather than the candidate they originally supported. And the Republican party threw their support behind her as well. She won by a two-thirds majority. She was 27 years old. Her election caught national attention in the press. The idea of other towns following Argonia’s example was debated. Some objected to “petticoat rule” and others preferred to wait and see if the idea caught on.
The first city council meeting Mayor Salter conducted was covered by the New York Sun. The article that appeared in the Sun lauded her ability to keep the meeting on track and follow parliamentary procedure. She put up with no nonsense and made quite an impression on the reporter. Her notoriety made it to places like Sweden and South Africa. Her salary for her year of service was one dollar (equal to twenty-nine dollars today). She did not run for reelection.
Life in Oklahoma
The Salter family moved to Oklahoma Territory, where her husband purchased a large piece of land and also practiced law. When he passed in 1916, she moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where her younger children were students at the University of Oklahoma. Although she never ran for office again, she maintained her interest in politics and Women’s Temperance Union.
In 1933, the town of Argonia placed a plague in the public square honoring Salter’s as the first female mayor in the United States.
She died on March 17,1961 in Norman, Oklahoma, two weeks after her 101st birthday. Susanna Salter intelligence and boldness to use her gifts as a speaker had inspired women in their fight for equality.
Have you ever heard of Susanna Salters?
Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She’s addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be an evening at the theater.
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Angelina’s Resolve book #1 of Village of Women
Architect Angelina DuBois is determined to prove her worth in a male-dominated profession by building a town run by women, where everyone is equal, and temperance is in the by-laws. Contractor Edward Pritchard must guard his heart as he works with the beautiful, strong-willed yet naïve Angelina. He appreciates her ability as an architect, but she frustrates him at every turn with her leadership style. When the project is completed, will it open doors for more work or make him a laughingstock? Can two strong-will people appreciate their differences and embrace their attraction as they work to build the town?