Guest Post: 1912′s All Woman Kanab City Council

Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Gender roles, politics | 13 comments

When we drive from Arizona to Utah, our favorite stop is Kanab, Utah. They have the loveliest city park and Three Bears Creamery Cottage with a variety of delicious sandwiches complete with homemade bread. By the time we’re done eating and playing in the park, we feel ready to tackle the next six hours of driving ahead of us.

This year over the Memorial Day weekend, Nate picked up the local Kanab tourist newspaper, and we enjoyed this article. (Thank you to Barbara Pyles for letting us reprint it here.)

And, you’ll note that this is a political piece…don’t you want to submit something for Exponent II’s Fall Political issue? The deadline has been extended to July 1st.

By Barb Pyles

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Kanab electing the first all-woman town council. Kanab’s population in 1911 was about 900 people and they had just elected the first all-woman town council. Several men thought it a joke at first, until the citizens voted for the all-woman ticket. Since there was no other ticket on election day, the women won!

Mary Woolley Chamberlain, Luella Atkin McAllister, Tamar Stewart Hamblin, Blanche Robinson Hamblin and Ada Pratt Seegmiller had the unique distinction of being the first all-woman city council and mayor in the country, and many say the world! Utah women were the only ones in the U.S. (with exception of a group in Wyoming) who had the right to vote. The new council were average women who took the election seriously.

The local newspaper’s editor D.D. Rust gave the women a big write-up and was certain of their ability. The election made news all over the country. Even London papers printed comments on the election! Newly-elected mayor Mary Chamberlain was the entrepreneur type. In 1896, she became the first woman county clerk in Utah. Mary was the fifth wife in a polygamous family. While the government struggled with the polygamy issue, Mary spent six years underground. Facing opposition taught her cooperation. That knowledge proved invaluable when she became mayor. Council minutes from January 2, 1912 reported: “The old board surrendered their chairs with good grace and expressed good wishes to the incoming board.”

The new council had minds of their own and frequently decided issues contrary to their husbands’ suggestions. Chamberlain wrote, “We have always been united in our labors, have laid aside our personal feelings and always worked for the public good. Don’t think for a moment that we haven’t any opposition to contend with. We feel sometimes that we have more than our share of it. Some members meet it every day in their own homes, but they are all women of character and have been able to hold their own.”

During their two year term, the following items were decided: licenses for peddlers and traveling merchants were increased. The women joined the Irrigation Company and built a dike above the town to protect property from menacing Kanab floods. A health board was appointed. Cattle, horses and other animals could no longer run loose in the streets. The women were tough. Dogs not registered before a certain date were killed. People were prohibited from building a corral, stable or feedyard within fifty feet of the street or public highway. Wooden culverts were placed across sidewalks where irrigation water crossed. Anyone allowing waste water to run down the street was fined. The women offered prizes for the best-kept streets and sidewalks surrounding homes.

Some other rulings: foot and horse races, ball games and other sports were banned on Sundays. They ordered stores not to sell unnecessary articles on the Sabbath. They also had the cemetery surveyed and sold lots.

Kanab was not a violent town, but the city council still had enough problems to keep them busy. Mary wrote, “Our greatest trouble has been in fighting the liquor evil, a terror to our town.” Many men smuggled liquor into Kanab through the U.S. Mail. The council wrote to the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C., and explained their situation. The result…the practice was stopped. Liquor was still shipped into Kanab by freight and other ways. Mary wrote, “They know we are on the lookout, and they have to be pretty sly about it. Our Marshall seized twelve gallons at one time which was addressed to different parties; some of them were able to prove to the satisfaction of the justice of the peace, though not to ours, that it was sent for medicinal purposes, and were allowed to keep theirs, and the rest, about six gallons, was poured out on the ground in front of the courthouse.”

By the end of their term in office, the ladies had earned the respect of the entire town. Tamar acted as spokesperson when the ladies were asked to run again. “When everyone else in town has had a trial, we’ll take another turn,” she said. On January 2, 1914, these “civic-minded” women turned the running of the town back to the men with one exception. Ada Seegmiller ran for reelection. After she won, she resigned. The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers presented a plaque to hang in the city offices and another for the Heritage House.

Mary Woolley Chamberlain’s Journal used as reference.

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13 Comments

  1. This is lovely! But why did Ada Seegmiller resign after re-election?

    • Somehow that was my favorite part. It made me feel like she was on board with their spokesperson who said they would run again after everyone else in town had an opportunity, but just wanted to prove (presumably to the men) that she, a woman Would be re-elected. Once it was proven, she could hold to their shared collection to let others try.

      • I spoke with the author and asked her the same question. She said there is no indication as to why, but her speculation is the same as Rachel’s. Just to show that she could.

  2. In recent years, Kanab has been noted for extremist political and anti-environmental views. It’s the place where state legislator Mike Noel led a group of ORV drivers on an illegal drive up a dry creek bed to prove it was really a road and the BLM had no right restricting access. Maybe it’s time for the women take charge again in Kanab.

    • To be accurate, it wasn’t a dry wash. It was the Paria River creek bed and it is a historical route between Cannonville and environs and the Paria townsite and Sand Hills.

      • just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s what is best for the landscape.

  3. My husband proposed to me on the cliffs of Kanab, and we plan to move their someday to start a business and a family. It’s the land our forefathers/mothers settled, and we have found the people-whether liberal or conservative, mormon or seventh day adventists, environmentalists or off-road enthusiasts, to be of incredibly good character.

    There are many differences of opinion in Kanab, and that is part of what makes it so special to us. And yes, the women who have lived there through the cattle days, the little hollywood days, the tourism peak days, and recently the rough days of unemployment and factories getting shut down (because of federal regulation), those women are true American heroes. (I’m a tree hugger and a liberal through and through, but in Kanab the issue is much more complex than even my own one-sided opinion).

    • *live THERE someday, darn autocorrect!

      • I would agree with you Lorraine, Kanab is a complicated and wonderful little town. I always love it because that is where Seldom Seen is from in Monkey Wrench Gang.

        The park in Kanab was built with private donations and it is probably the best city park between Flagstaff and Provo. Highly recommend stopping there on that drive.

  4. What a great snippet of history! Thanks, Barb.

  5. Contrary to the comments above, I feel it is a great loss that the women did not run for a second term. This is a typical problem with females — they do something to prove that they can (in this instance, win the election and make excellent improvements to the city) and then they step down and “turn the running of the town back to the men,” as if it is the inherent right of the men to run the town! How pitiful! These women showed that they were well able to run the town as well, if not better, than the men. Why did they then give power back to the men? Why did they not continue to serve their community in this important way? Why did Ada run and then step down? Frankly I think the fact that the women didn’t stick on in this position of influence negates most of the gains that the women made by running in the first place.

  6. i lived in kanab for 1 1/2 years and hope to never live there again. most closed-minded community i have ever lived in. where people get up in church and testify that the mayor is called of god. gag!

    good luck, lorraine. many of my friends that are not LDS continue to find it to be a very unfriendly place to live unless you’re LDS. maybe you can turn the tide.

  7. emily cc…. i would recommend stopping at the rocking v cafe next time. amazingly good food!! tomato basil soup is a must have!

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