Susanna Madora Salter, the first female mayor in the U.S., was nominated by men for public office without her knowledge back in 1887 and it was done as a cruel prank. Against all the odds, though, she won!
Salter was born to a strict Quaker family in Lamira, Ohio, in 1860, and it’s widely believed that she’s one of the very first women elected to any political office in the U.S. She attended the Kansas State Agricultural College at the age of 20, now known as Kansas State University, but she was forced to quit school six weeks before graduation as she was too ill to finish.
Salter met her future husband, Lewis Salter, at the College, they got married in 1880, and started a family in Argonia, Texas. She gave birth to nine children in total, and she became an officer in her local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Shortly after Susanna and Lewis moved to Argonia, her parents moved to the town as well, and her father was elected the first mayor of the newly incorporated town in 1885. Lewis, his son-in-law, was elected to be the first City Clerk.
Women were given the right to vote in the U.S. as long as they lived in a city of either first, second, or third class. The town of Argonia was in the third class, so women were eligible to vote.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union made the enforcement of Kansas’ laws on Prohibition its main issue in the year of 1887, and nominated a number of potential candidates that were in agreement. The Union also wanted to highlight the fact that women were now permitted to have a say in politics – something that didn’t go well with some of Argonia’s population.
Apparently, a group of about 20 men were not happy with the idea of women being involved in politics, and they wanted to do something about it. So, they decided to make a cruel prank about women by submitting a list of candidates that reflected the one in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, but they put down the name of Susanna Salter as the mayor.
They thought that no men would ever vote for a female mayor, but it was then when history was made.
The prank’s intention was to humiliate the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and discourage any woman from getting involved in politics in the future. Salter found out about the joke at election day, when the local Republican Party chairman sent a group of representatives to her house to see if she was really running for office. She was asked if she would serve as mayor if she was elected, and she replied that she will. So, the Republicans agreed to vote for Salter, and she received the votes of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Republicans, which meant that she won over 60 percent of the vote. So, Susanna Madora Salter became the first female mayor in the United States.
Some would argue that her one-year term in office was relatively uneventful, she caught the eye of the press, who often reported on Argonia town meetings and asked local residents about their female mayor.