AMERICA'S FIRST WOMAN MAYOR
BY ALFRED HEWETSON MITCHELL
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
AMERICA'S FIRST WOMAN MAYOR 53
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
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!"
54 OHIO ARCHEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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
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