Ohio History Journal






A native of Ohio who became America's first woman mayor

has been honored at Argonia, Kansas, by a plaque which was

erected through the efforts of Kansas club women and dedicated

on November 10, 1933. Kansas believes in flowers for the living,

so this plaque was unveiled in the presence of Mrs. Susanna M.

Salter, the Ohio-born woman who had made history at the age of

twenty-seven when she was elected mayor of Argonia in 1887.

Susanna Madora Salter was born March 2, 1860, on a farm

near Lamira. Belmont County, Ohio, the daughter of Oliver and

Terissa Ann White Kinsey. Both were of Quaker parentage,

their ancestors having come over from England with William

Penn's colonists on the ship Welcome. The Kinsey family moved

from Ohio to Kansas in 1872 and settled near Silver Lake on an

80-acre farm ten miles west of Topeka.

Susanna attended country schools until 1878, when she en-

tered the Kansas State Agricultural College at Manhattan, Kan-

sas, as a sophomore. There she met Lewis Allison Salter, son of

former Lieutenant Governor Melville J. Salter; she was married to

him September 1, 1880. For a year the newlyweds lived on a farm

near Thayer, Neosho County, Kansas, and then they moved to

Cherryvale where Lewis Salter worked in a hardware store.

Argonia's opportunity to become famous was occasioned by

Salter's accepting a position as manager of the Argonia branch

of Carson & Baldwin of Cherryvale. The Salters' second son,

born February 13, 1883, was the first baby born in the new town

and was named Francis Argonia, the first name being for Mrs.

Baughman, the wife of the doctor who attended. In 1885, Mrs.

Salter's parents moved to Argonia, where Oliver Kinsey and his

son-in-law purchased a hardware store which was operated under

the firm name of Kinsey & Salter. The town of Argonia was






incorporated that year with Oliver Kinsey as the first mayor and

Lewis A. Salter as clerk. All ordinances were written by Mr.

Salter, who was at that time studying law. The next mayor was

William Watson. In 1886, the Kansas legislature enacted a law

giving the franchise to women in first, second, third, and fourth

class cities. A Women's Christian Temperance Union had been

organized in the vicinity of Argonia in 1884 and went into action

at the time of the April election of 1887. The organization called

a caucus and selected a ticket of good men without regard to


There was, however, an element in Argonia that was averse

to women in politics. Two of this opinion called twenty of their

friends into a secret caucus, where it was decided to teach a lesson

to those females who dared to participate in politics. They named

the same candidates for council, but substituted Mrs. Salter's name

for mayor, intending to give her only twenty votes as a means of

curbing W. C. T. U. activities. Her name was chosen because

she was the only W. C. T. U. member living within the village


The tables were turned, however, the morning of the election

when the voters discovered the trick. They voted for Mrs. Salter

in such numbers that she received a two-thirds majority and thus

became the first woman mayor in the United States--perhaps in

the world.

As the news of her election spread in the newspapers, many

curious persons wrote to find out if the report was correct, and

Mrs. Salter spent her annual salary of one dollar many times over

each month for postage in answering her "fan-mail." Leaders of

women's rights movements in the United States and many other

countries wrote to her, and, in the fall of 1887, Madam Mayor

was invited to speak at Newton before the Kansas Woman's Equal

Suffrage Association. On this program there also appeared Susan

B. Anthony and Henry Blackwell, the husband of Lucy Stone.

When Mrs. Salter was introduced to Miss Anthony, the noted

leader did not offer her hand, but instead slapped her on the

shoulders, saying, "Why, you look just like any other woman!"



No difficulties occurred in connection with her regime for,

when she called the council to order, she said, "Gentlemen, what

is your pleasure?" This convinced the surprised and skeptical

councilmen that, contrary to predictions, they were not under

petticoat rule.

Although at the time of her election, Mrs. Salter was only

twenty-seven, she was already the mother of three boys and one

girl. Another girl and boy were born later in Argonia and two

more sons came into the world after the Salters had moved to

Oklahoma. At the opening of the Cherokee Strip, Lewis Salter had

filed on a claim one mile north of Alva, Oklahoma, and soon moved

his family and law office to this county seat of Wood County. After

living ten years on a farm near Alva, they sold the land and moved

to Carmen, Oklahoma, where Salter practiced law and established

a newspaper, the Carmen Headlight. His older sons aided in its


Salter died August 2, 1916, and his widow took her children

to Norman, Oklahoma, where she still resides at 31 E. Boyd

St. She takes an active interest in political and religious affairs.

Each year she returns to visit relatives in Ohio and the East.

Five of her children are: Lewis S. Salter, Dean of Fine Arts,

Oklahoma University, Norman; Leslie E. Salter, Flossmoor, Illi-

nois, a practicing attorney in Chicago and formerly an assistant

attorney-general at Washington, D. C.; William E. Salter, on the

staff of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.; Mrs.

Melva O. Harris, employed at the Bureau of Engraving, Wash-

ington, D. C.; and Mrs. Roy Stover, Wichita, Kansas. The other

three, Clarence E. Salter, Winifred A. Salter and Frank A. Salter

are dead.