April 4 - An Anti-Women Prank Results in the First Female Mayor in the US!

Posted on April 4, 2020

1882: Susanna and Lewis Salter moved to a little Quaker village in Kansas. The name of the town was Argonia, and the population was way under 500. (The population is still under 500, at least as of 2017.)

Lewis Salter managed a hardware store. Susanna Salter was busy with a bajillion types of unpaid work - pretty much all women were, back then - including birthing her second of nine children (Argonia's first birth!). Still, she found time to become an activist in the field of Temperance (the movement promoting moderation in the use of alcohol, elimination of the abuse of alcohol, and eventually prohibition of drinking alcohol).

1883: Susanna Salter's parents, the Kinseys, moved to town and bought the hardware store, which they named Kinsey & Salter.

1885: The town of Argonia was incorporated and its formal government set up. Susanna Salter's father became the town's first mayor, and her husband became the city clerk.

1887: The Kansas state legislature passed a law giving women the vote - but only in cities that were classified as first, second, or third class cities. Argonia was considered a third class city; so women could now vote!

(Kansas ensured the right of women citizens throughout the state to vote in 1912, and of course the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution enshrined this right all across the nation in 1920.)

 April, 1887: The town of Argonia, Kansas, was planning an election, with one position to be filled being that of mayor.

Some men were angry that women now had the right to vote. That was man stuff! How dare women invade man stuff! 

Also, some of these angry men were angry that women activists were talking about Temperance. They had attended Temperance meetings, and they'd tried to intimidate the "ladies." 

Remember, a lot of people (including some women)
were very much against women having the right to
vote. Some made it seem as if it were an either / or
situation: either men can vote, or women can... and then
the empowered women wouldn't allow their husbands out
of the house long enough to vote, too?

Twenty angry men met in the back room of a local restaurant, anxious to teach women a lesson, to humiliate them, to put them in "their place." They also wanted to discredit the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) as a political force. How to do that? They decided to put a woman on the ballot in the mayoral race, with her name subbed in for the man chosen by the WCTU for their endorsement... And they decided that the butt of this joke would be Susanna Salter. When she suffered a devastating loss at the ballot box, it would strike a blow at the WCTU and at women in politics.

At the time, candidates did not have to be made public (or even to file to run) before election day. So, that's why:

April 4, 1887: Early voters were shocked to see Mrs. Salter's name on the ballot. The chairman of the Republican Party in Argonia sent someone over to her house and found her doing laundry. The Republican delegation asked her if she would serve as mayor, if she won. She answered that she would.

Republicans then went to work, campaigning to get the vote out, all over town, and letting people know about the anti-women prank and their intentions to elect Mrs. Salter. When they heard about the prank, members of the WCTU ditched the male candidate they'd endorsed and voted for Mrs. Salter as well.

And that is how some anti-women men prompted the election of the first female mayor in the United States! 

Even though Susanna Salter's term of office was pretty uneventful, she became famous all over the nation. Newspapers sent reporters to sit in on Argonia council meetings and to interview residents to see what life was like under "petticoat rule." Many folks decided that the normalcy of Argonia's government made it clear that women in politics wasn't crazy, after all.... 

Also on this date:

Sonia Kovalevsky Mathematics High School Day (held on different dates by different institutions)

Anniversary of the knighthood of Francis Drake

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