Although a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote didn’t occur until August, 1920, Kansas women gained the right to vote in municipal elections as early as 1887.
Not too long after suffragettes won this right, in 1890, Edgerton elected a female mayor and council.
“Petticoat politics have triumphed here,” according to the Kansas City Times. “And during the coming year our municipal affairs will be administered by a petticoat government.”
When Kansas Territory was organized in the 1850’s, women’s issues were a priority. National leaders saw the areas as battlegrounds for women’s rights. Kansas women gained the right to vote in school district elections in 1861 and municipal elections in 1887. The crusade for equal voting rights, however, continued to elude supporters. In 1912, eight years before the ratification of the national woman suffrage amendment, Kansas became the eighth state to extend equal voting rights to women, according the Kansas Historical Society.
While Syracuse, Kansas, has the distinction of having the first all female mayor and city council in 1887, Edgerton – only three years later – wasn’t too far behind
“At the recent city election the ladies carried the day. It wasn’t their fault that they did however, They didn’t try to and they didn’t want to, but they carried the day just the same and now they must shoulder the responsibilities of city government.” The Times article is quoted in Edgerton’s centennial history and was submitted by Ruth Holden Llewellyn.
Mrs. W. H. Kelly was elected mayor; Mrs. T.S. Greer, police judge and for city council, Mesdames S.E.Stewart, W.E. Ewart, R.G. Holden, Nat Ross and H.G. Brown.
The women’s election came about due to a political issue regarding the closing of restaurants on Sundays.
“The keeping open on the Sabbath of the restaurants attracted noisy crowds of loafers and offended the moral sense of the better class of the community,” the Times writes. Political factions developed regarding “personal liberty, anti-blue platform.”
Opposition from a former candidate, H.G. Brown, against current candidate Peter Doran, led Brown to run a “woman” ticket against him and at the same time humiliate the ladies and heap ridicule upon them by placing at the foot of the ticket the name of T.H. Strong for city council. “Now, Strong is the typical village loafer of Edgerton, the Micawber of the town,” the Times article recounts. “The corner grocery whittler and dry-goods-box story teller. He was ignored by the better class of men and scorned by all the women. By electing him, the only man on the woman ticket, the ladies would be humiliated mightily.”
Brown developed his woman’s ticket by inserting the name of “Mrs. W. H. Kelly, the wife of the city clerk who had been appointed to the position by his foe, Nat Ross,” the Times states. For judge he named Mrs. T. S. Greet, and for councilwomen Mrs. W.S. Ewert, Mrs. Nat Ross, Mrs. S. E. Stewart and Mrs. R. G. Holden. All of the women had assisted his opponent in the previous election.
“At the bottom of the ticket, he placed the name of Micawber Strong,” according to the Times. “The women were scandalized and indignant, but still, not fearing the election, took no great interest in the campaign.” Eventually Strong’s name was removed and Brown’s wife’s name was added while she was absent from the council and unable to oppose.
According to the Times, when she returned and saw her name had been added, “she cast her lot with her village sisters, and rather than see them humiliated and made ridiculous by the election of Loafer Strong, entered the campaign with energy and fought her husband politically as bitterly as his most desperate enemy.”
Come election, there were three opposing tickets: the Doran, which had the support of restaurant proprietors and staff; the Strong, which had the support of Brown; and the woman’s ticket.
When the polls closed, 65 votes had been cast. “The women came in with a rush,” the article states. Mrs. Brown was the only woman candidate who was close to defeat. “She beat Strong by only a short neck. She received 27 votes to the loafer’s 21.”
However, by May, the female council had resigned, according to the history. A special election was called for May 19 to fill the vacancy.
“The women seem to have become offended at the strictures on proposed reforms, which they contemplated and made up their minds to let the cruel men assume the reins of the city government for the balance of their time,” The Times states.
Kansas became the first state to allow women to vote in school elections, and suffrage activists in Kansas launched a second attempt to win even broader voting rights in 1894. However, the amendment was defeated at the polls. By the turn of the 20th century, only four states (all out West) allowed women to vote, and a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment, introduced in 1878, did not have widespread support. But in 1911, a third attempt to grant women the right to vote was introduced in Kansas .
The Equal Suffrage Amendment quickly passed and was signed by Republican Gov. Walter R. Stubbs. The measure was then submitted to the state’s male electorate for ratification, and on Nov. 5, 1912, Kansas became the eighth state, and first in the Midwest, to approve women’s voting rights in all elections.
Information courtesy of Edgerton’s centennial history 1883-1983.
(First run in The Gardner News Aug 27, 2016)