Luella honored!

Luella Cover

Last month, I urged the City Council to rename the historic council chambers in the Old City Hall after Luella Johnston, the first woman elected to the Sacramento City Council (and, for that matter, the first woman to be elected to the city council of any major city in the United States).

This past Tuesday, the City Council did just that!

Council Resolution.jpg
The current Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County and the past President of the Tuesday Club accepted the Resolution on Luella Johnston’s behalf.

The Resolution, authored by Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, recognizes Luella’s unique contributions to our city and unique place in women’s history. Amazingly, up until this Tuesday, there had never been any significant memorial honoring Luella in Sacramento.

March, appropriately, is National Women’s History Month. “Men and women have worked together to build this nation,” acknowledged the first Presidential Proclamation to establish this tradition, even though “too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

Luella’s contributions, forgotten for more than a century, certainly fall into that category. Renaming the Old Council Chambers, in which she served, is a fitting way to right this oversight and to honor a rich history of women’s leadership in our city.

Thank you to Councilmember Ashby and the City Council for this beautiful gesture.

America’s First Councilwomen (Sacramento was First)

Luella Cover

I recently finished a series of posts on Luella Johnston, who in 1912 became the first woman elected to city council not only in Sacramento, but also in all of California. It seemed probable that she was also the first woman elected to the city council of any major U.S. city, but because there’s no list of first councilwomen this was difficult to confirm.

However, after researching for longer than I care to admit, and with the generous help from city clerks, librarians, and historical societies from across the nation, I am now ready to say with confidence that Luella… *drumroll* …WAS the first councilwoman of a major American city.

Luella Headshot circa 1912 - from Sac Union 1948 article

And pretty comfortably so. The median major city didn’t elect its first councilwoman until 1956, several generations later. The last city to do so was Newark in 1994, when voters elected Mildred Crump. Luella’s closest contender for the title of first was the fascinating Estelle Lawton Lindsey, whom Angelenos elected in 1915 and have been (falsely!) claiming as the first major city councilwoman ever since.

Since it was difficult to find the first councilwoman for each major city, I’ve decided to host the list here as a public service. Each councilwoman was identified as being first in either a secondary source (like a newspaper) or by a city official or librarian. However, I don’t doubt that some names were missed or that some dates are wrong. So please send any corrections my way to SacMentality@gmail.com and I will update the list!

A quick note on methodology. First, I only counted women elected in their own right to office, as opposed to appointed to fill a vacancy (but I did note the early appointees I came across). Second, I defined “major city” as the top 100 cities by population as of the 1910 census, which immediately preceded Luella’s 1912 election. Now, lest I receive complaints, technically at 45,000 residents Sacramento fell just short of being in the top 100 cities in 1910. However, in 1911, the City annexed three neighborhoods (Oak Park, East Sacramento, and Highland Park) adding around 20,000 residents to its population, placing it comfortably in the top 100 by Luella’s 1912 election.

 

The First Elected Councilwoman of Every Major U.S. City

# City State 1910 Pop. Year Name Notes
1 New York NY 4,766,883 1937 Genevieve B. Earle
2 Chicago IL 2,185,283 1971  Anna Langford
3 Philadelphia PA 1,549,008 1951 Constance Dallas
4 St. Louis MO 687,029 1943 Clara Hempelmann
5 Boston MA 670,585 1939 Mildred Harris
6 Cleveland OH 560,663 1985 Meta D. Thomas
7 Baltimore MD 558,485 1943 Ella Bailey
8 Pittsburgh PA 533,905 1956 Irma D’Ascenzo
9 Detroit MI 465,766 1950 Mary Beck
10 Buffalo NY 423,715 1972 Virginia Purdy
11 San Francisco CA 416,912 1921 Margaret Morgan
12 Milwaukee WI 373,857 1956 Vel Phillips
13 Cincinnati OH 363,591 1921 Dr. Bertha Lietze
14 Newark NJ 347,469 1994 Mildred Crump
15 New Orleans LA 339,075 1986 Peggy Wilson
16 Washington DC 331,069 1975 Polly Shackleton, Nadine Winter, and Willie Hardy
17 Los Angeles CA 319,198 1915 Estelle Lindsey
18 Minneapolis MN 301,408 1961 Elsa Johnson
19 Jersey City NJ 267,779 1973 Lois Shaw
20 Kansas City MO 248,381 1963 Billie Hagan
21 Seattle WA 237,194 1922 Bertha Landes and Kathryn Miracle
22 Indianapolis IN 233,650 1934 Nannette Dowd
23 Providence RI 224,326 1975 Carolyn Brassil
24 Louisville KY 223,928 1929 Hattie E. Hoffman
25 Rochester NY 218,149 1973 Midge Costanza
26 Saint Paul MN 214,744 1956 Elizabeth De Courcy
27 Denver CO 213,381 1975 Cathy Reynolds and Cathy Donohue Elisa Dasmascio Pallidino was appointed in 1935, but was never elected.
28 Portland OR 207,214 1943 Dorothy McCullough Lee
29 Columbus OH 181,511 1923 Olga Anna Jones
30 Toledo OH 168,497 1963 Jane M. Kuebbeler Lucy Dittman was appointed in 1933, but was never elected.
31 Atlanta GA 154,839 1973 Panke Bradley
32 Oakland CA 150,174 1931 Wilhelmine Yoakum
33 Worcester MA 145,986 1936 Anna Kane
34 Syracuse NY 137,249 1924 Elizabeth Collins Appointed in 1923 then elected in 1924.
Melanie Kreuzer was elected in 1949.
35 New Haven CT 133,605 1927 Josepha Whitney
36 Birmingham AL 132,685 1963 Nina Miglionico
37 Memphis TN 131,105 1967 Gwen Awsumb
38 Scranton PA 129,867 1973 Grace O’Malley Schimelfenig
39 Richmond VA 127,628 1954 Eleanor P. Sheppard
40 Paterson NJ 125,600 1969 Rita Avalo May Guggenheim was appointed in 1943, but was never elected.
41 Omaha NE 124,096 1965 Betty Abbott
42 Fall River MA 119,295 1949 Margaret Stinziano
43 Dayton OH 116,577 1975 Pat Roach Gail Levin was appointed in 1973.
44 Grand Rapids MI 112,571 1961 Evangeline Lamberts
45 Nashville TN 110,364 1953 Gertrude Bartlett
46 Lowell MA 106,294 1963 Ellen Anastos Sampson
47 Cambridge MA 104,839 1925 Florence (Lee) Whitman
48 Spokane WA 104,402 1969 Margaret Leonard
49 Bridgeport CT 102,054 1935 Sadie Griffin
50 Albany NY 100,253 1943 Barbara Schenck
51 Hartford CT 98,915 1947 Lucy Williams
52 Trenton NJ 96,815 1976 Jennye Stubblefield Olivia Leggett was appointed in 1974.
53 New Bedford MA 96,652 1969 Rosalind Poll Brooker
54 San Antonio TX 96,614 1948 Emma Long
55 Reading PA 96,071 1976 Karen Miller
56 Camden NJ 94,538 1940 Maud Crawford
57 Salt Lake City UT 92,777 1979 Ione M. Davis representing District 6, Sydney R. Fonnesbeck representing District 3, and Alice Shearer representing District 4
58 Dallas TX 92,104 1957 Calvert Collins
59 Lynn MA 89,336 1938 Alice B Harrington
60 Springfield MA 88,926 1923 Emma Brigham
61 Wilmington DE 87,411 1925 Sybil Ward
62 Des Moines IA 86,368 1983 Marie C. Wilson
63 Lawrence MA 85,892 1985 Councilor at large Marguerite P. Kane and District F Councilor Pamela Neilon
64 Tacoma WA 83,743 1952 Clara Goering
65 Kansas City KS 82,331 1989 Carol Marinovich
66 Yonkers NY 79,803 1939 Edith Weldy
67 Youngstown OH 79,066 1987 Darlene K. Rogers Elizabeth Hughley was appointed to the Council in 1987 just before Darlene Rogers was elected.
68 Houston TX 78,800 1980 Eleanor Tinsley
69 Duluth MN 78,466 1956 Lucile Roemer
70 St. Joseph MO 77,403 1974 Joyce Winston
71 Somerville MA 77,236 1925 Edith B. Davidson
72 Troy NY 76,813 1943 Agnes Powers Mary Kennedy was appointed in 1918, but never elected.
73 Utica NY 74,419 1928 Lena Goldbas
74 Elizabeth NJ 73,409 1956 Mary D. Gillen
75 Fort Worth TX 73,312 1952 Clarice Spurlock
76 Waterbury CT 73,141 1953 Catherine DeLeon
77 Schenectady NY 72,826 1976 Karen Johnson
78 Hoboken NJ 70,324 1953 Loretta Haack
79 Manchester NH 70,063 1985 Catherine Schneiderat (Ward 2), Ann Bourque (Ward 3), and Leona Dykstra (Ward 6)
80 Evansville IN 69,647 1947 Irma Lynch
81 Akron OH 69,067 1937 Virginia Etheredge
82 Norfolk VA 67,452 1974 Elizabeth Howell
83 Wilkes-Barre PA 67,105 1957 Ethel Price
84 Peoria IL 66,950 1953 Myrna Harms
85 Erie PA 66,525 1981 Joyce A. Savocchio
86 Savannah GA 65,064 1923 Sarah Berrien Casey Morgan
87 Sacramento CA ~65,000 1912 Luella Johnston
88 Oklahoma City OK 64,205 1967 Patience Latting
89 Harrisburg PA 64,186 1969 Miriam Menaker
90 Fort Wayne IN 63,933 1921 Catherine Dinklage
91 Charleston SC 58,833 1923 Clelia Peronneau McGowan
92 Portland ME 58,571 1923 Florence Stevens
93 East St. Louis IL 58,547 1985 Lois Calvert Appointed in 1982, elected 1985.
94 Terre Haute IN 58,157 1925 Daisy Valentine
95 Holyoke MA 57,730 1926 Elizabeth Towne
96 Jacksonville FL 57,699 1967  Sallye Brooks Mathis and Mary Littlejohn Singleton
97 Brockton MA 56,878 1971 Anna Buckley
98 Bayonne NJ 55,545 1986 Dorothy Harrington
99 Johnstown PA 55,482 1973 Rita Clark
100 Passaic NJ 54,773 1972 Margie Semler
101 South Bend IN 53,684 1963 Janet Allen

Last updated: May 2018

Suggested Citation: Nicolas Heidorn, America’s First Councilwomen, Sacramentality.com (Mar. 18, 2018) (Updated May 2018).