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.
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
|1||New York||NY||4,766,883||1937||Genevieve B. Earle|
|4||St. Louis||MO||687,029||1943||Clara Hempelmann|
|6||Cleveland||OH||560,663||1985||Meta D. Thomas|
|11||San Francisco||CA||416,912||1921||Margaret Morgan|
|13||Cincinnati||OH||363,591||1921||Dr. Bertha Lietze|
|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|
|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|
|24||Louisville||KY||223,928||1929||Hattie E. Hoffman|
|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.|
|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|
|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.|
|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|
|46||Lowell||MA||106,294||1963||Ellen Anastos Sampson|
|47||Cambridge||MA||104,839||1925||Florence (Lee) Whitman|
|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|
|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|
|59||Lynn||MA||89,336||1938||Alice B Harrington|
|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|
|65||Kansas City||KS||82,331||1989||Carol Marinovich|
|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.|
|74||Elizabeth||NJ||73,409||1956||Mary D. Gillen|
|75||Fort Worth||TX||73,312||1952||Clarice Spurlock|
|79||Manchester||NH||70,063||1985||Catherine Schneiderat (Ward 2), Ann Bourque (Ward 3), and Leona Dykstra (Ward 6)|
|85||Erie||PA||66,525||1981||Joyce A. Savocchio|
|86||Savannah||GA||65,064||1923||Sarah Berrien Casey Morgan|
|88||Oklahoma City||OK||64,205||1967||Patience Latting|
|90||Fort Wayne||IN||63,933||1921||Catherine Dinklage|
|91||Charleston||SC||58,833||1923||Clelia Peronneau McGowan|
|93||East St. Louis||IL||58,547||1985||Lois Calvert||Appointed in 1982, elected 1985.|
|94||Terre Haute||IN||58,157||1925||Daisy Valentine|
|96||Jacksonville||FL||57,699||1967||Sallye Brooks Mathis and Mary Littlejohn Singleton|
|101||South Bend||IN||53,684||1963||Janet Allen|
Last updated: March 2018
Suggested Citation: Nicolas Heidorn, America’s First Councilwomen, Sacramentality.com (Mar. 18, 2018).