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What's possible

“’Showing the world what’s possible’: St Paul makes history with the first all-woman city council” read the headline in today’s online article in the Guardian.

The first image is of the swearing in on January 9, 2024, of the “youngest and most diverse city council in St Paul’s history, making it the first major American city to have an all-woman

city council. The women, all women of color, under the age of 40, and progressive in their politics are: Rebecca Noecker, Nelsie Yang, Cheniqua Johnson, Hwa Jeong Kim, Saura Jost, Anika Bowie and Mitra Jalali.

The news prompted me to remember my visit to the landmark for the first all-woman city council and mayor in Kanab, Utah. It was May 2005. Linda and I had front-loaded a vacation trip onto a business trip, as we typically did. The business trip was my upcoming presentation at the Berkshires Conference of Women Historians at Scripps College, Claremont, California. The vacation was because I had read that Lake Powell, in Utah on the Arizona border, was rapidly receding and revealing new sights due to a six-year drought.

(The lake was created by the building of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, consequently flooding the magnificent Glen Canyon.) During previous trips to the area, I had gotten hooked on exploring slot canyons and wanted to share that experience with Linda: So, we went to nearby Antelope Canyon located on Navajo land. From there, we drove to Kanab, Utah, to visit the landmark to KANAB’S ALL-WOMEN COUNCIL AND MAYOR–Mayor Mary E. Wooley Chamberlain, and

Councilwomen Luelle Adkin McAllister, Blanche Robinson Hamblin, Tamar Stewart Hamblin, Ada Pratt Seegmiller. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Mary Chamberlain later explained: "In these little towns there is not salary enough in any of

the offices to justify men to devote their time to them, and as their other work calls them away from home most of the time, the affairs of the town were often sadly neglected, so on the morning of Election Day 1911 the first three men at the polls suggested that they make up a ticket of women, which they did, more as a burlesque than anything else, but we were every one elected by a large majority."                       

Chamberlain noted that when she first learned of her win, she was "disgusted" and felt completely unqualified. Yet her father expressed his confidence in the women, and the editor of the local paper wrote a story celebrating their competency. . . . after some consideration and debate, the group decided to "tackle the job and see what we could do."     The women accomplish a great deal during their two-year term, including "ordinances to keep stray dogs and loose livestock from roaming freely in town, a ban on slingshots, provisions for the surveying and plotting of the city cemetery and the overseeing of the construction of bridges for irrigation canals and a dike." Other ordinances required traveling merchants to pay $2 to do business in Kanab, fined citizens for gambling or indulging in “noisy outdoor amusement” in Kanab on Sunday. (Only Ada Seegmiller ran for reelection. She won but resigned after the first meeting.)  Satisfied with the job they did, Mary Chamberlain said women were “perfectly able to carry on the work; and, in fact, are better able, because the men are away from home most of the time looking after their sheep, cattle, etc.”

Twenty-three years before the all-woman mayor and council in Kanab, voters in Oskaloosa, Kansas, elected an all-woman town government. Note the detailed descriptions of Mayor Mary D. Lowman!


First image and quotations:

Salam, Erum, “’Showing the world what’s possible’”: St Paul makes history with first all-woman city council,” Guardian, January 20, 2024.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Wikipedia

Photograph of All-Woman Council and Mayor by Penny Colman

Chamberlain quotations:

Davis, Payton and Lauren Fields, “How Kanab’s 1911 all-women town council went from ‘disgusted’ to making history.” Deseret News, March 23, 2018.

Newspaper Article:

“MOTHERS AS CITY RULERS,” The Philadelphia Times, April 15, 1888, p. 11.

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The world would be a much better place if more women were in leadership!

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