I recently learned about Susanna Madora Salter, the first woman in the U.S. to lead a town. It happened in 1887 when Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas. That year, women in Kansas gained the right to vote in city elections. It was also at a time when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was working to prohibit the sale of alcohol and when elections were not very structured. After the WCTU put its slate of candidates together, so did the “wets” – matching the WCTU ballot exactly except for the name of the candidate for mayor – into which they inserted Salter’s name. They believed no one for vote for this altered slate or for the WCTU slate. But they were wrong! Salter won 60% of the vote. The “first dude” reconciled himself to the situation making jokes about being the “husband of the mayor.” Eventually, women would run as serious candidates for many offices and be elected. Match each of the elected leaders who was born a woman, each of whom have been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, with her accomplishment:
____ 1. The first woman elected to a judicial office in the U.S.
____ 2. The first woman elected as a state governor in her own right.
____ 3. The first woman elected to the New York State Senate.
____ 4. The first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
____ 5. The first woman elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
A. Jeannette Rankin
B. Florence Ellinwood Allen
C. Margaret Chase Smith
D. Ella Grasso
E. Constance Baker Motley
The first woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress – in the House of Representatives – was Jeannette Rankin. A committed pacifist, Rankin was elected to represent Montana in 1916. In 1917, she voted against U.S. entry into World War I. Subsequently, she ran for the U.S. Senate seat from Montana but was not elected. In 1940, she ran on an isolationist platform and was re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1941, she was the only member of the U.S. Congress to vote against U.S. entry into World War II. She was active in the peace movement throughout the rest of her life. Rankin said “We’re half the people, we should be half the Congress.”
A woman of many firsts, Florence Ellinwood Allen was the first woman assistant county prosecutor in the U.S. and the first woman elected to a judicial office in Ohio. Later, she was the first woman elected to a court of last resort – the Supreme Court of Ohio. A pioneer in many respects, Allen was the only woman in her law class at the University of Chicago in 1909. In 1913, she completed her law degree, second in her class, at the New York University Law School, but did not receive any job offers due to her gender. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920, enfranchising women, she ran for and won election as a Common Pleas Judge. In 1922, she was elected to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The first woman appointed and confirmed to a federal appeals court judgeship, she served for 32 years, including as chief judge.
The first woman to win elections to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Margaret Chase Smith’s first election was to fill the seat of her recently deceased husband in 1940. She was re-elected for each two-year term until the 1948 election, when she ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat from Maine. Smith was the first woman from Maine elected to the House and to the Senate. She was an unsuccessful nominee for the 1964 Presidential Republican nomination and an outspoken opponent of McCarthyism. She is credited as the longest serving Republican woman in the Senate.
When Ella Grasso was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1974, she had not lost an election since 1952 – when she had first been elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. The first woman to be elected governor in her own right (without succeeding her husband), Grasso had been the first woman elected Floor Leader of the General Assembly (1955). She served as Connecticut Secretary of State from 1959 to 1970. The first woman to chair the Democratic State Platform Committee, Grasso served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Posthumously, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
The first African-American woman appointed to the federal judiciary, Constance Baker Motley had decided to become a lawyer by the time she was 15. The first black woman accepted to the Columbia Law School, Motley met Thurgood Marshall, who was then chief counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Working for Marshall, she played a major role in the preparation of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education legal case and was the first black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. She won nine out of ten cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1961 and 1963. The first woman elected to the New York State Senate, Motley was also the first woman to hold the position of Manhattan Borough President. In 1966, President Johnson appointed her to the United States District Court, the first African-American woman so appointed. Over her lifetime, Motley received over 70 awards and 8 honorary degrees.
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. All of these elected leaders who were born women are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.
(Answers 1-B, 2-D, 3-E, 4-A, 5-C)