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First Woman Mayor in U.S.

Susanna Madora Kinsey Salter was born on March 2, 1860, near the unincorporated community of Lamira, in Smith Township, Belmont County, Ohio. She was the daughter of Quaker colonists from England, Oliver Kinsey and Terissa Ann White Kinsey.

When she was 12, they moved to Kansas and settled on an 80 acre farm in Kaw Valley, near Silver Lake. She attended local schools and at the age of 18 she entered Kansas Sate Agricultural College ( Now Kansas State University) in Manhattan. She was always a bright young woman and applied herself to her studies. She was permitted to skip her freshman year at college because she took college level courses in high school. However, because of illness she was forced to dropout of school a mere six weeks short of graduation.

It was during her time in college that she met Lewis Allison Salter who was an aspiring attorney and the son of former Kansas Lieutenant Governor, Melville J. Salter. She and Lewis married, and the young couple soon moved to Argonia. Lewis managed a hardware store and her father, Oliver, was mayor, following the town’s incorporation in 1885. It was here that she gave birth to their firstborn, Francis Argonia Slater. Lewis and Susanna had a total of nine children. She was a devoted wife and mother. While raising her children she became an officer in the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and was active in Prohibition Party organizations where she became acquainted with the famous Carrie Nation.

Susanna Salter had a huge surprise when she went to the polls early that morning, to vote in the 1887 election. She was shocked to discover that her name was on the ballot, and she was up for election for mayor. It was actually a joke, a prank played by a group of men who were decidedly against women having the vote let alone being involved in politics. They hoped to see a humiliating loss and thus discourage women from even running for office. Back then candidates did not have to be announced and made public before opening the ballot on election day. Although shocked, and in truth quite angry, she did agree to accept the office if elected. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union abandoned its own preferred candidate and they all voted for Salter. The Republican Party also threw in their votes for the “little woman.” The result was amazing! This relatively unknown candidate, and a woman to boot, won the election handily garnering two thirds of the vote. She was sworn in on April 4, 1887 just a few weeks after the women in Kansas had gained the right to vote in City elections. She was the daughter of the town’s first mayor and the first woman Mayor in the United States. Her election did spark quite a bit of national interest and debate. Other towns were concerned that this could happen to them and objected to the “petticoat rule” while others took a more wait and see attitude.

Laura M. Johns, president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, capitalized on Mrs. Salter's election. For a Salina newspaper she wrote on April 28, 1887:

"Argonia is a pretty little city . . . with a population of 500 . . . incorporated two years ago . . . It has attracted the attention of suffragists by electing, this spring, a lady to the mayoralty. This is the first time a woman has held that office in Kansas, and we are glad that the "innovation" is made in the person of one who will fill that office with credit to herself and sex, and satisfaction to her townspeople. [The mayor] . . . does not fear [her opposition] in the least, and is determined, by the help of God, so to conduct her office as to make it serve the best interests of the city. She is an officer in the Argonia W.C.T.U., much interested in the enforcement of the prohibitory law, and in the study of the best means of suppressing and eradicating the vices that beset our cities."

A representative from the New York Sun attended one of the first meetings presided over by the new mayor, Mrs. Salter. He wrote describing the mayors attire, her hat and her dress in great detail. He also pointed out that she presided with decorum and that several times she checked irrelevant discussion thus demonstrating that she was a good parliamentarian.

She let the men take the lead in the council; the council and mayor worked harmoniously throughout the year. Actually the council did little. Two draymen were arrested for refusing to buy licenses, some boys were warned about throwing rocks at a vacant house, but otherwise the term was politically uneventful. No new ordinances were passed, although some of the ordinances which Mrs. Salter's husband had drawn up were tested for their effectiveness. A councilman thought the license on billiard tables should be reduced from $25 to $12.50 a year, since the existing license -- in his opinion -- was almost prohibitive. Mrs. Salter thought that the town did not need billiard parlors badly enough to offer any premiums and expressed this opinion. When one of the other councilmen agreed with her, the matter was dropped. When the councilmen were asked if they knew of any violations of ordinances which demanded attention, they did not respond. The mayor pointed out that she knew of two small boys who had been throwing stones at a vacant house, and she thought they should be arrested and punished. The reporter added, "This was about all the business transacted, and it is little else that the Council is ever asked to do.” Overall, it was a very lack luster and uneventful term.

The mayor was regarded as a curiosity by the townspeople, and was always pointed out, as some kind of oddity, to strangers visiting the town. The Sun reporter noted that "the mischievous small boys appear to regard her much as a New York hooligan does a 'cop,' and 'There's the Mayor' is often the signal for a general scattering of urchins as she approaches." This Eastern observer concluded his column in this way:

"I asked Mrs. Salter if her ambition to act as a female politician or leader in woman suffrage circles had been aroused by her election. She quickly replied, "No, indeed, I shall be very glad when my term of office expires, and shall be only too happy to thereafter devote myself entirely, as I always have done heretofore, to the care of my family." And in conversation with a number of business men in Argonia I found a very general disposition to rest on the laurels now won as the only American town which ever tried the experiment of a woman Mayor.

Publicity about the mayor, Mrs. Salter extended to newspapers as far away and Sweden and South Africa! Notwithstanding this uneventful term of office, Mrs. Salter immediately became one of the most talked about and written about political figures in America.

After just one term, a year, she declined to seek reelection and as compensated one dollar for that year of service. She never sought another elected office. Eventually, in 1893, the family moved to Oklahoma. Her husband had acquired land in Alva (then the Oklahoma Territory). Ten years later they moved to Augusta in Woods County, Oklahoma, where her husband practiced law and established the Headlight newspaper.

As settlers from the town migrated she joined them and settled in Carmen, Oklahoma. In 1916, following her husbands death she moved to Norman, Oklahoma to accompany her youngest child who was attention the University of Oklahoma.

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