The Election Day Joke That Backfired

In 1887, a mayoral election was held in Argonia, Kansas. Among the names on the ballet was the name of Susanna Salter. Women had been granted the right to vote in local elections in Kansas four years earlier, and in 1887 a group of women, including Salter, formed a local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Among its other goals, the group campaigned for the prohibition of alcohol. The men of Argonia, who kept the local saloon in business, didn’t see why they should share public authority with women at all. So, on election day, they put down Susanna Salter’s name, replacing the man they had nominated as mayor. They reasoned that the notion of Salter, a 27-year-old wife and mother, becoming mayor was so absurd that only the WCTU extremists would vote for her, exposing their movement as marginal and idiotic. Voters were shocked to see Salter’s name on the top of the ballot, and pro-temperance voters rushed to the Salter home. They proposed turning the prank on itself, and with the help of WCTU members, she was elected with a two-thirds majority. That made her the first female mayor of a U.S. city. After winning the election, Salter banned hard cider from the town and served her one-year term. A few years later, the Salter family moved to Oklahoma, and America’s first woman mayor lived to see a lot more changes take place. She died in 1961 at the ripe old age of 101.