Her History: Meet Susanna Salter, America’s First Female Mayor

Photo from: Kansas Historical Society

"I just made those men of the council believe they were the nicest men in the world, and we got along admirably."

-Susanna Salter, on her policy as mayor

Susanna M. Salter was the first woman elected to be mayor in the United States. An officer of her local Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Susanna was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887, the outcome of what was meant to be a joke against the WCTU.

The city of Argonia was incorporated in 1885, and as a third class city, women gained the right to vote in 1887 under Kansas legislation. Since they could now vote, the women of the WCTU made prohibition a central issue of the election, and selected a ticket that they would support. A group of men, angry that women could now vote and wanting to prank the WCTU, recreated their slate of candidates, but replaced the mayor with Salter. Their thought was that male voters would refuse to vote for her and the ticket, and the WCTU would be humiliated at the election. The day of the election, however, Susanna was not even aware that her name was on the Prohibition Party ticket, as candidates did not have to file before election day. The chairman of the Republican Party, an early voter who was shocked to Salter’s name on the ballot, contacted her to see if she would assume office if elected. After she said yes, the Republican Party decided to vote for her to teach the men who tried to prank her a lesson. The members of the WCTU also voted for Salter, abandoning their previous nominee.

At only 27 years old, Susanna Salter won the election, following in her father’s footsteps, who was the first mayor of Argonia. Although her one- year term was relatively uneventful, it was covered extensively by both the local and foreign press. Susanna received “fan mail” sent by feminists and suffragettes from all over the world. The following year, other Kansas cities began to elect women to office. The mayor did not choose to run for reelection, but instead spent the rest of her life in Oklahoma, maintaining her interest in political and religious affairs.

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