First Woman U.S. Mayor – With a Little Help from Her Girlfriends!

Susanna M. Salter

Now SHE had Girlfriends! – Susanna Medora (Dora) Salter (1860-1961) became America’s first U.S. Mayor for the city of Argonia, Kansas in 1887 at the age of 27. Her ancestors were Quakers who came to the colonies in 1682 from England on the Welcome ship with William Penn. She had nine children.

Born in Belmont County, Ohio, Susanna Madora Kinsey moved to a Kansas when she was 12 with her parents, Oliver Kinsey and Terissa Ann White Kinsey. She was educated in local schools, and no doubt at home, and entered the Kansas State Agriculture College (now Kansas State University) as a sophomore. She graduated in 1879 and married aspiring attory Lewis Allison Salter in 1880, the son of the former Kansas Lt. Governor Melville Salter and moved to Argonia, Kansas. She was an officer in the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In 1887, just weeks after Kansas gave women that right to vote in local municipal elections, WCTU put force a slate of male candidates. During their caucus to choose the slate, local men appeared and heckled them, even suggesting unsuitable candidates. The men thought they would show the women who was really in power and just hours before election day, submitted a similar WCTU slate with one exception – Dora Salter was nominated as Mayor.  Here’s an excerpt from Monroe Billington’s, Susasanna Madora Salter, First Woman Mayor.

Early voters on the morning of the election were shocked, therefore, to find that she was a candidate. The chairman of the Republican party in Argonia immediately sent a delegation to see her. They found her doing the family washing. They explained the trick and then asked if she would accept the office if elected. When Mrs. Salter agreed, they said, “All right, we will elect you and just show those fellows who framed up this deal a thing or two.”

     All day long they explained the situation and campaigned to get out the vote. Mr. Salter, an early voter, was angered when he discovered his on the ballot. He was even more perturbed when he returned home and found that his wife had consented to serve if elected. Mrs. Salter was undeterred. At 4 P.M. she went to the polls with her parents and voted. It was not considered proper to vote for oneself in those days, so Mrs. Salter left the ballot for mayor unmarked.

By forsaking their own caucus nominee, the members of the W.C.T.U. voted for Mrs. Salter in such numbers that she received a two-thirds majority. Instead of the 20 votes intended for her, the faction had given her the election. Instead of humiliating the women, they had elected the first woman mayor in the country.

Salter became an instant phenomenon. She did not intend to overshadow the male councilmen, however, and when she opened the first meeting she said, “Gentlemen, what is your pleasure? You are the duly elected officials of this town, I am merely your presiding officer.”

It’s a good thing since she was a little busy during her term:

Clipped from The Topeka State Journal, 13 Feb 1888, MonPage 4
see more at

mayor salter give birth