Of Oskaloosa, Kansas in 1888 and 1889


Although I had originally thought that in Beattie, Kansas in 1899, the city was the first to elect a full council of women plus mayor. I was actually wrong. That honor actually belongs to Mayor Mary D. Lowman of Oksaloosa, Kansas in 1888, 10 years before, who was re-elected with another women council in 1889. This can be seen through Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume 12, which states on page 400:

According to A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life, edited by Frances Elizabeth Willard and Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, page 476:



In the Chicago Tribune‘s article, “Women Who Run Towns” from December 27th, 1890, Lowman is mentioned:


They Can Talk Municipal Reform and Angel Food Cake with Equal Skill-Cottonwood Falls, Oskaloosa, and Argonia Governed by the Fair Sex-Kansas Girls to the Fore on the Stump and at the Bar.

The pessimist prophets who so confidently undertake to define for us women’s true “sphere” say the present indications are that she will degenerate into a sexless, undefinable creature too dreadful to contemplate. But who shall say?

The granting of municipal suffrage to women has made some startling innovations not only possible but actual. It is no news that Mrs. Kellogg, the lady who has been Assistant Attorney-General the last two years, fills the office as credibly as any of the stronger sex have done. Mrs. Kellogg’s legal ability ranks high among her brethren at the bar. She is a handsome woman and very popular with the social as well as the official circle at Topeka.

All the world knows that the entire Aldermanic body of the Town of Cottonwood Falls is feminine.

The same is true for Oskaloosa. At this place two elements were fighting for supremacy. The party known as the “Anti-Prohibition” party on the very eve of election got out a ticket composed entirely of women, intending it merely a demoralizing agency in overthrowing the plans of “Law-and-Order” faction. But the “Law-and-Order” workers elected the women ticket, much to the chagrin of the perpetrators of the joke.

Mrs. Salter, the Mayor of Argonia, is administering the affairs for the second official term. She is said to have attended to her public and social duties, to have performed all her household work, including washing, ironing, and cooking, for a family of five, and to have increased her family from five to six all in one year.

She is a nervous-looking little thing and her managers were evidently afraid that her personal appearance might not be all that a discriminating world demands, for a bevy of women took her off in one corner and adjusted her drapery, picked out her frizzies, and generally looked her over before she mounted the platform. The poor little Mayor was badly frightened, reading in a voice a little above a husky whisper a short sketch of the situation in her town.

Mrs. Lowman, the Mayor of Oskaloosa, was present at the same convention. She is very pretty, womanly-looking woman, appearing much too young for the mother of a 22-year-old son who accompanied her.

The towns under petticoat government are the butt of the facetious paragrapher. It is written:

“The men of Oskaloosa, who have been accustomed to slipping little ‘presents’ into Alderamic pockets, will now have to change their methods, since no man can hope to find a women’s pocket.”

“At the last meeting of the City Council of Cottonwood Falls the time was divided between a discussion of street-lamps and a new recipe for making angel food,” etc.

Kansas is said to be the banner State for organizations for women. Every town has its equal suffrage local society, and there are over a hundred women’s clubs in the State.

One of the most prominent and successful clubs is the State of Hypatia, at Wichita. It is now in it’s fifth year and numbers fifty members. Hypatia was organized after the pattern of Sorosis. It has handsome club rooms of its own and meets fortnightly. It is a part of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs meeting over two years, and which will meet in Chicago in 1892. Hypatia frequently entertains other clubs from sister towns, and is very popular in consequence.

The equal suffrage women are concentrating their forces, and expect at the next Constitutional Convention to strike a blow at the word “male” in the suffrage clause of the Constitution.

Mrs. Laura Johns, the State President, is a sweet-faced, quiet-looking woman whose personality is anything else than that of typical female suffragist.

The Farmers Alliance of Kansas, the body that has inaugurated such a political revolution at the recent elections, swears by the name of Mrs. M. E. Lease, who stumped the State all summer in interest of its candidates. This lady has blazed up into the public sky with the velocity and brilliancy of a rocket. She is a magnetic speaker, with a tongue that can lend itself to eloquence and patriotic fervor, or scathing  satire and vindictive abuse of her opponents.

Mrs. Lease is a pale, delicate-looking woman and rather prepossessing in appearance, notwithstanding that a Texas editor once called her “a lantern-jawed, goggle-eyed nightmare.”  She is a lawyer and enjoyed a lucrative practice before her alliance with the farmers.

Mrs. Lease is not popular with her own sex, but she has a firm hold on the affections of her party.

Speaking of the Farmer’s party brings up the thought of the farmer’s wives.

If any one could conjure up a picture of sod houses and dugouts of privation and poverty, let him clear his cob-webbed brain at once. That picture belongs to a remote age of the sixties. The average Kansas farmer lives as this as well, if not better than, his Pennsylvanian brother.

The present prosperous condition has been achieved by hard work, however. The motto of the State, “Ad Astra per Aspera,” is the history of every successful farmer. It depends on the market now whether the Kansas farmer burns Kansas coal or Kansas corn in his furnace.

The women on Kansas farms are, many of them, independent of that slavish condition which requires a woman to ask her husband for every cent of money she wants. She oftener makes her own money, and spends it, too. The corn and the oat crops are sometimes failures, but the chicken and turkey and butter crops rarely are.

Many women, starting from small beginnings, manage successful flocks of sheep and herds of fine cattle independent of their husbands special interests.

Five years ago a lady living in one of the larger towns was told by her physician that if she wished to live she must continue to live out of doors most of the time.

“Leave off your corsets and get on a farm; raise pigs and chickens-anything which will keep you in the open air.”

Her husband bought a farm close to one of the nearest railroad stations so that he might attend his business in town. There was a tolerable house on the place and a young orchard, which contained a few plum trees. The bees buzzing about these plum trees when in full beauty and bloom of early spring gave this woman her inspiration.

She planted a plum orchard and a few arches of buckwheat and catnip. She read up on bees and poultry and began business.

It is a fact that this industry, began in the smallest way, now pays this one-time invalid in good round dollars as well as health and restord vigor.

To see this woman riding about the farm on horseback, with a man’s hat shading her ruddy and somewhat freckled face, wearing a bloomer dress, and sitting astride on a man’s saddle. is often quite a shock to the conservative mind.

So just what are these organizations called Hypatia and Sorosis? This question brought a very detailed answer regarding Hypatia in The History of Women’s Club Movement in America by Jane Cunningham Croly, pages 480 through 494:

For Sorosis, several sources come up, starting with The Kansas City Review, Volume 9, within a section called, “Concerning Clubs”:

Additionally, New England Magazine; an Illustrated Monthly, Volume 38, features an article called “The Story of the Women’s Club Movement” by Helen M. Winslow:

Mayor Lowman gets mentioned in the Buchanan’s Journal of Man, Volume 3, in an article titled, “Women Rule in Oskaloosa, and Progress of the Sexes in the United States and Eleswhere” stating the following:

Additionally, History of Woman Suffrage: 1883-1900, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Ida Husted Harper, and Matilda Jocelyn Gage, mention Lowman in Chapter XL (pages 642 and 658), about the women’s suffrage movement in Kansas:

Also, in the Montreal Herald article, “THE WOMAN MAYOR: Petticoat Government Proves a Success in a Kansas City. Oskaloosa’s City Council. Reforms of Many Kinds Accomplished by a Female Administration” stating the following:

Kansas was born into Statehood out of the first throes of a great revolution, and with her the revolution has not yet ceased. Prohibition, women’s suffrage, and John J. Ingalls have served to make her at once picturesque and original, but it has reserved to her to demonstrate by actual experiment that the way to reform a government is not only to “turn the rascals out,” but to avoid the danger of turning the rascals in.

Twenty-eight miles west of Atchison, on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, is the town of Oskaloosa. It is an old place, as Kansas towns go, and is in the centre of one of the most populous districts of the State, being, besides it’s proximity to Atchison, only twenty-miles distant from Lawrence, twenty-five from Leavenworth and not a great distance from Topeka. Like all other places in the West it at once had a reverberating “boom.” It is in the heart of a splendid agricultural and grazing country  and its facilities and resources are capable of great development.


But its government fell into loose and incompetent hands, and a long line of mayors and council men who came into office developed nothing but alderamic stomachs and a propensity to travel on free railroad passes. Old citizens declared that they could hear the boom rushing past Oskaloosa on the wings of the froliesome  Kansas wind, bourne to Wichita and other less favored localities. A new town arose on the western horizon of Jefferson county and threatened to take the county seat away from Oskaloosa.

This was the danger signal which led the people of the place to “rise in their might,” drop all party divisions, disregard all tradition and precedent and nominate a woman for Mayor and five women for the Council. The ladies chosen for these important positions were:-For Mayor, Mrs. Mary O. Soromon [Mary D. Lowman] and for the Council Mrs. Hannah A. Morse, Mrs. Sarah E. Balsley, Mrs. Emma Hamilton, Mrs. Carrie L. Johnston, and Mrs. Minnie Golden. These together constituted the “reform” ticket, in the support of which the progressive citizens of Oskaloosa united. The consent of all these ladies nominated was a necessary condition precedent to their candidacy, but that was not hard to get. They proved themselves to be anything but novices in the art of politics by declaring themselves “in the hands of their friends,” and announcing a patriotic willingness to sacrifice their own comfort and yield their inclination for retirement to the public good.

All great reforms move slowly, and this was no exception to that rule. The people who did not want to make progress rallied around the flag of the existing administration, every part of which was desirous of the usual “indorsement.” They were not driven from power without a struggle, and the election illustrated the affinity of the sexes, for the Oskaloosa ladies cast the majority of their ballots for the masculine ticket, and had not the sterner sex come gallantly to the rescue the cause of reform would have another repulse and the boom would have continued to travel out of its way to keep out of Oskaloosa.

The average majority in favor of the women’s reform ticket was only between sixty and seventy. The night following the election brought out the inevitable brass band with which every Kansas town is afflicted, and also developed a taste for the oratorical quality of the newly elected legislators. Two or three good speeches met the serenades of the homes of the elect, and it was at once realized that if nothing had been gained in the way of a boom nothing had been lost in the way of eloquence.


As inauguration day approached popular interest in the new experiment grew and spread. In the large crowd filling the small room which is the seat of the Oskaloosa government were many outsiders coming from the adjacent cities more remote, to become spectators of what was believed would be a veritable circus.

Never was an expectant audience more disappointed. The newly elected mayor assumed the official duty of acting as presiding official of the council, with a gravity becoming the solemnity of the occasion. The five newly elected members of the council were all in their seats, and although all matrons and beyond the giddy period of school-girl flirtation, they presented a picture of beauty of face and figure, which it is safe to say, no aldermatic board in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia or even classic Boston could equal.


Beauty, however, was not the distinguishing characteristic of the body. The mayors inaugural address indicated in clear and unmistakable terms the line of policy to be pursued by the administration, which was, in brief, a strict and orthodox enforcement of every law in the Kansas statutes and the Oskaloosa ordinances. It impressed particularly upon the public mind that Oskaloosa must remember the Lord’s Day to keep it holy. Hitherto various places of business, such as grocery stores, barber shops, restaurants, livery stables and like resorts had kept open doors seven days in the week. Under the new dispensation it was ordered that they should be closed Saturday night and not reopen for business until Monday morning. This initial attitude of the reform party aroused a storm of opposition not only from the classes directly affected, but from the larger classes comprised among their customers. Every possible influence-social, political, financial, and otherwise-was brought to bear upon the Mayor and Council.


The contest was a hopeless one from the beginning, for the Council was a unit with the Mayor on the question, and the dissenters had no voice there against the overwhelming sincerity of purpose and obedience to the strict letter of law which animated the women government. The loud and frequent threat institution of the legal proceedings was equally ineffective to effect either repeal or modification of the ordinance. Everything  but churches, drug stores, and hotels had to be locked up on Sunday, and a large class of progressive citizens who had supported the reform ticket in anticipation of a boom, hotly declared that if the boom should reach the town Saturday night and it would leave before Monday morning.

The Oskaloosans were not long in concluding that married women assume the powers of government with ease and exercise them with vigor. The bachelors and cynics and that class of community which had fallen under the ban of the blue law legislation attributed this prosperity to the experience of the new city officers in governing husbands.


 Time, which eats all things even, has taken the sting out of this piece of sarcasm. It was not long after the new dispensation began before its absolute integrity of motive and singleness of purpose were universally conceded. The perfect impartiality with which every law and ordinance was enforced, joined to the devotion of the authorities to their conception of right, regardless of results, compelled the admiration even of those who opposed its methods. Mayor Lowman might take tea with Mrs. Sones [Jones] in the evening and urge the day following the condemnation of Mrs. Jones’ property on high public grounds. Any member of the Board could be trusted to vote against rather than for bills or resolutions in their own interest or in that of their husbands or other relatives. There has been no location of street of street lights in favored localities under the new regime of Oskaloosa, no improvements around the properties of city officers for the purpose of increasing it’s value, no granting of special privileges to anybody. These legislators  were and are as innocent of all selfish or corrupt design as it is possible for intelligent beings with the power of discriminating between right and wrong to be. They carry conscience, and nothing else, into the discharge of public duty, and hew to the line, let the chips fall where they may.


Like a once famous candidate for the Presidency, no woman officer of Oskaloosa is “a deadhead in the enterprise.” The railroad company sent in its passes to the newly-elected officers soon after the election, but they were returned, in every case, with the information that the Mayor and Council of Oskaloosa would pay their way when they travelled. It was not long before the company was notified that it must reduce the speed of its trains in the city limits of Oskaloosa to conform to the statutes and ordinances in such cases made and provided. The trains now run more carefully through Oskaloosa than through Atchison, Topeka or any other larger cities along the line where women are not in the positions of authority, and where railroad officials exchange passes for value received.

Although Kansas is a prohibition State, and Oskaloosa, perforce, a prohibition town, there are a goodly number of red noses to be seen about the streets, worn mostly by the species of Western settler denominated as prominent citizens. It was in an effort to discover the paint with which they are coloured that the reform government took the only false step in its history thus far in beginning an investigation with a view to the conviction of Oskaloosa druggists who sell whiskey in allopathetic doses for medicinal uses. The reformers were met with the statute making the duty of the State’s officers to prosecute such cases. They were brought to a standstill, but as one of them expressed it in a passionate speech delivered in an open session of the Council they protested against being denied the right to perform the duty which some one else was neglecting.

The red noses remain, but the “fly by night” shows, all entertainments of the broad variety can save money by leaving Oskaloosa off their trips lists. The moneys derived from show licences have heretofore contributed largely to the annual municipal revenues, but under the exclusion policy now pursued the recipients from this source have been decreasing at such a rate that but for the strict economy governing all expenditures there would be a deficit at the end of the fiscal year.


If Anthony Comstock would move to Oskaloosa they would build him a monument. His views or art and nature accedtance [acceptance] with the authorities there, who, while they do stipulate that the elephant in the visiting circus shall wear buckskin pants, have gone to an extreme almost equally ludicrous and which has lead the most amusing as well as the most embarrassing of their official experiences. By an ordinance in line with the lofty moral policy which has animated all their acts, they prohibited the exhibition on the streets as blooded breeding stock for advertising purposes. This action was contested and resisted in the courts by a syndicate of stock raisers, who combined their interests in opposition. The case came up on the last term of the Jefferson County Circuit Court in session at Oskaloosa. It drew the largest audience ever seen in a court room in that part of the State. The case involved both of points and evidence and both the city and the contestants were well represented by counsel. After a long trial and able arguments the case went to the Court, which rendered a decision favourable to the Council and affirming its right to legislate against all acts opposed to public decency and morals.

Their victory for the women has raised them and their methods of government greatly in the public estimation. It has also strengthened their purpose and increased their confidence in their legal powers. They have inaugurated what for Oskaloosa, is an extensive system of public improvements in the building of new sidewalks and the grading and macadamizing the streets. A part of the work has been at the public expense, but that entailed by the building of sidewalks has assessed as a special tax against adjacent property. The legality of the Council’s acts has been contested by many of the wealthy and influential citizens of the place, and a number of these cases will be called for trial at the next term of the Circuit Court. Meanwhile the Oskaloosa government is pushing the work of improvement rapidly forward in this and other directions, and congratulates itself that it is bringing about the visible signs and tokens of the long promised and longer expected boom,


Not one-half of the term for which women government was chosen has yet expired. Their administration, so far as it has progressed, has been eminently safe in 2 financial way, the wives and the mothers who compose the governing elements carrying into their public relation the same care and caution which animates them in holding the family purse strings and keeping the children out of the sugar bowl and preserve jars. Texas will not increase with proportion with the visible improvement and advance in real values, and this fact dawning on the perception on the average Oskaloosan, will cause him to sink all prejudice below the high-water level of his pocket and float with the tide. “Petticoat government” would be handsomely indorsed if there was an election at Oskaloosa just now. The regular meetings of the Council are marked by a dignity and decorum too often lacking in the public boards of greater cities. The members are all well “up” in parliamentary tactics, and Mayor Lowman follows the lines of Cashing, no matter where they lead or who they run over. The ladies have become apt debaters and are quicker at reparice and rejoinder than any of their predecessors in office.  The Oskaloosa Council will compare favourably with any in the country, both in its appearance and record, and Kansas is willing to enter it for a prize and back it for money against the world.

I would like to conclude with “Chapter XXXI: Women In Politics” from Occupations for Women: A Book of Practical Suggestions for the Material Advancement, The Mental and Physical Development, and The Moral and Spiritual Uplift of Women by Frances E. Willard, Helen M. Winslow, and Sallie Elizbaeth Joy White, titled “Women In Politics,” which not only mentions Mary Elizabeth Lease (the M. E. Lease from the above article, “Women Who Run Towns” in the Chicago Tribune), but also Clara Barton, abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Emily (ancestor to Governor William Weld) and Sarah Moore Grimké, Wendell Philips, Unitarian Minister and Cantabrigian Colonel T. W. Higginson, former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, Governor and Secretary of the Navy John M. Long who served in the William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt Administrations, Massachusetts U. S. Senator George F. Hoar, and 1884 and 1888 National Equal Rights Party Presidential candidate Belva A. Lockwood.


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