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  American HistoryUnited States: Local History and DescriptionThe WestKansasHistory
 
Susanna Madora SalterSusanna Madora Salter

the first woman Mayor in Kansas

Susanna Madora Kinsey was born into a devout Quaker family near Lamira, Ohio, on March 2, 1860. Her family moved to a farm near Silver Lake, Kansas, in 1872, and she attended the district schools there until entering Kansas State Agricultural College as a sophomore in 1878; illness forced her to leave college just six weeks before graduating. She married Lewis Allison Salter, the son of former Lieutenant-Governor Melville J. Salter, on September 1, 1880, at Silver Lake.

Lewis and Susanna moved to Argonia, Kansas, in 1882, and he took a job managing the local hardware store. Susanna's parents moved to Argonia and bought the hardware store in 1884; Lewis continued to work at the store, while reading for the law at the same time. When Argonia was incorporated in 1885, Susanna's father was elected the first Mayor and her husband the first City Clerk. As the wife of the City Clerk, Susanna became responsible for writing the city's ordinances.

In 1887 Kansas gave women the right to vote in local elections, as long as they lived in a city of the first, second or third class. Since Argonia was a city of the third class, its women were eligibile. That year, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, of which Salter was a member, made enforcement of state prohibition laws the prime issue and nominated a slate of candidates for local office who agreed with them. A number of local men, however, not only disagreed with prohibition but also with the idea of women having any say in political affairs. Hoping to discredit the WCTU, the men drew up a slate of candidates identical to the one presented by the WCTU except for having Susanna Slater's name entered as a candidate for mayor. The men figured that the only people who would vote for Slater would be the WCTU members, and they thought that the WCTU would be so humiliated that it would disband. Salter was chosen because she was the only WCTU member who lived within the city limits.

Salter was not informed that she was a candidate for Mayor until election day. The local Republican Party chairman saw her name on the ballot and, upon finding out about the anti-WCTU men's "joke," sent a delegation to her home to inquire whether she really was running. When asked whether she would serve if elected, she said "yes," and the Republicans said they would teach the jokesters a lesson by voting for her. Instead of the 20 or so votes the jokesters expected Salter to get, she ended up winning by a two-thirds majority and became the first woman to be elected Mayor in Kansas.

Salter's election and subsequent term as Mayor was covered by newspapers across the country, and she even got letters of support from overseas. Her one-year term went by without a single hitch, and she chose not to run for another term.

Lewis Salter staked a claim in the Cherokee Strip and moved the family to what is now Alva, Oklahoma, in 1893. After he died in 1916, Susanna moved her family to Norman, Oklahoma. She died there in 1961.

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  The Robinson Library > American History > United States: Local History and Description > The West > Kansas > History

This page was last updated on February 18, 2015.

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