Susanna Salter, the first female mayor in the U.S.

Susanna Madora Salter

Susanna Madora Salter, or Dora as friends called her didn’t choose to enter the race for mayor of Argonia, Kansas. She didn’t even know she was running. Her name was added to the ballot by a group of men as a joke to mock the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a group Susanna was active in. She was chosen by the men because she was the only one who qualified. The other women lived outside of city limits.

Susanna was doing housework when the head of the Republican party in her town stopped by to confirm whether or not she was running for office. That’s how she found out her name was on the ballot.

“Yes,” she said to him when he asked if she’d like to stay in the race.

And with that, the twenty seven year old mother of four, confirmed her candidacy for mayor. Once she confirmed, the head of the Republican party said “All right, we will elect you and just show those fellows who framed up this deal a thing or two.”

The year was 1887 and Kansas has just given women in most districts of the state the right to vote in local elections. This didn’t sit well with some of the men in town. They were bitter about women’s involvement in politics, and they feared the group for making enforcing the prohibition law, which was a ban on alcohol sales, a key issue of the city election.

So they nominated Dora for mayor with complete certainty that she would lose. Her loss they hoped would embarrass the WCTU and slow down the momentum of the group.

But Dora understood politics. Her father was mayor of the city only a few years prior. Her husband was the current city clerk, and as his wife, she wrote the city ordinances.

Dora won the election with two thirds of the votes becoming the first female mayor in the U.S.

In her first meeting as mayor, she faced a number of the men who tried to humiliate her. She looked at them along with all the other members of the city council, and without bitterness or anger, she made her first statement as mayor.

“Gentlemen, what is your pleasure? You are the duly elected officials of this town, I am merely your presiding officer.”

“Nominated as a joke, Susanna Salter becomes the first female mayor in the U.S.” sources:, Wikimedia Commons