Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

SALTER, SUSANNA (1860-1961)

Susanna Madora Salter was the first woman to become mayor in the state of Kansas, and she was probably the first woman mayor in the United States. Susanna Madora, or "Dora," was born in Ohio on March 2, 1860, and moved to Kansas with her family when she was twelve. At age sixteen she enrolled at Kansas State Agricultural College (later Kansas State University) in Manhattan; she graduated in 1879. In September of 1880 Dora met and married Lewis Salter, son of former lieutenant governor of Kansas Melville J. Salter. Susanna's husband ran a hardware store in the newly established Quaker town of Argonia in Sumner County, Kansas, where Susanna became politically active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1883.

When Salter was elected mayor in 1887 she received congratulatory telegrams from all over the world. She never campaigned for the position; in fact, by some accounts her name was placed on the ballot as a joke. Women in Kansas had just received the right to vote in municipal elections, and several men in Argonia were determined to embarrass her by placing her name on the ballot. To the surprise of many (herself included), Susanna, aged twenty-seven, received two-thirds of the vote. She served for only one uneventful year and is said to have ceded most of her decisionmaking power to the men seated on the council. Even though she was encouraged to run for an additional term, Susanna refused because she wished to spend her time with her eight children.

The Salters took out a claim near Alva, Oklahoma, in 1893, following the opening of the Cherokee Strip. After her husband's death in 1916, Susanna moved her family to Norman, Oklahoma, where she lived until her death on March 16, 1961, at age 101.

Suzanne M. Leland University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Billington, Monroe. "Susanna Madora Salter—First Woman Mayor." Kansas Historical Quarterly 21 (1954): 173–83.

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