HESSTON — Bonnie Johnson wants more people to know about the life and accomplishments of Susanna Salter, the first female mayor in the United States. Johnson will portray Salter at a high tea hosted by Historical Echoes from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 6, at Dyck Arboretum 177 W. Hickory St. in Hesston.
"I think she's very historically significant to the state of Kansas," Johnson said. "This woman was elected within months of women being given the right to vote in Kansas."
Kansas gave women the right to vote in February 1887, 33 years before women could vote in national elections.
"Kansas is one of the first states to actually allow women to vote," Johnson said. "Kansas was very forward-thinking in the 1800s. I think it was the pioneer spirit."
Salter's parents moved to Kansas from Ohio when she was 12-years- old. A family of Quakers who could trace their lineage back to the days of William Penn, they were concerned with the causes of abolition and equal rights for women and Native Americans.
"The Quakers were truly into equality for all," Johnson noted.
Salter's parents wanted her to be educated. She attended Kansas State Agricultural College, which later became Kansas State University, seeking a degree in Domestic Sciences.
"Kansas is only second behind Iowa when it came to allowing women to attend public colleges," Johnson said.
Salter's father, Oliver Kinsey, was the first mayor of Argonia. Her husband, Lewis Salter, was the son of former Kansas Lieutenant Governor Melville Salter, and served as Argonia's city clerk.
"Her family is politically aware," Johnson said.
Salter's election to office was not her idea, but was started as a joke, Johnson noted. As vice president of the local Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Salter was called upon to preside over a meeting when the president was ill. The agenda for the meeting revolved around choosing candidates for the local election.
"The women got together and wanted to put up their slate of gentlemen to further their cause of prohibition in the city limits," Johnson said.
Several men present at the meeting heckled Salter and the other women and determined to cause more mischief after getting ahold of the final ballot list.
"They submitted the ballot, but they changed out the name of the mayor to her name," Johnson said. "Nobody knows about it until election day."
When Salter was told about her name being put up for mayor, she took it in stride.
"It was a joke, but she was still willing to serve," Johnson said.
Salter won the election, getting two-thirds of the votes.
"It had to be quite a few of the women and some of the men who voted for her," Johnson said.
Serving as mayor for a year, Salter found out that three of the council members she served with were part of the scheme. Still, she took her duties seriously.
"During her term, two people tried to sell alcohol without licenses and she shut them down," Johnson said.
Salter received letters of congratulations from around the world. She was able in the fall of 1887 to travel to Topeka for a women's suffrage conference, where she met Susan B. Anthony.
"There's this whole woman that did a lot with her life," Johnson said. "Her whole life would have been very interesting."
Salter had nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. She herself lived to the age of 101, passing away in 1961.
"At first when I started researching, I thought she was this quiet housewife," Johnson said. "I find her truly amazing."
Learning about Salter's life from the few remaining records that exist gave Johnson not only a picture of the first woman mayor, but also the time and place in which she lived.
"It was kind of cool to do this research and learn about Kansas," Johnson said.
For tickets and more information about the tea with Susanna Salter and future events featuring other historical figures, visit http://www.historical-echoes.com or call 785-493-5246.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.