This article is dedicated to all the moms who make the world a great place to live in. Happy Mother’s Day!
“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.”
First all-women town council – Kanab Area Vacation Guide, (accessed May 13, 2017).
This quote from Mary Woolley Chamberlain’s diary exemplifies the pioneer spirit each woman embodied as they served on the first all-women town council in the United States. The members of this council understood that to be a woman on the frontier meant sacrifice and hard work. Women participated in assisting their husbands while also meeting the needs of the home. They cooked, cleaned, folded laundry, and reared children–all this while helping to build towns and do their part in an untamed land.
And yet, it is in this environment, where a woman’s role in society could adapt, not only out of desire but necessity. Such was the case in Kanab. In 1911, the town elected Mary Woolley Chamberlain, Luella Atkin McAllister, Tamar Stewart Hamblin, Blanche Robinson Hamblin, and Vinnie Farnsworth Jepson. Jepson resigned shortly after being elected but was quickly replaced by Ada Pratt Seegmiller. In honor of Mother’s Day, Western Legends Round-Up took a closer look at these women and their remarkable legacy.
The women officially served in their posts beginning in 1912, and we found many articles written about the work they did during their two-year tenure. In 2012, Kanab’s mayor at the time, Nina Laycook, put together a traveling play honoring the council, marking the 100-year anniversary of the election. We took advantage of these resources and viewed America’s First All-Women Town Council, a documentary presented by Kanab Creek Journals.
The film offers a concise picture of the events surrounding the election of 1911. We learn more about the political atmosphere of the time, when women all over the United States, including Susan B. Anthony, were fighting for women’s suffrage. We also see why the men of a rural town would think to write the names of five women on an election ballot, allowing them to run unopposed. Through reenactments, interviews, and photos, we come to understand what made these women so extraordinary.
Women of Community
Each woman who served on the council was an active member of the community. Some were married to prominent community members. We learn from the film that the women’s names were originally written on the ballot because men wanted to quiet complaints made by the female town members. It was meant as a joke.
Each woman had to make up her mind, for herself, whether or not she would take on the additional responsibilities. One of our favorite scenes depicting this moment shows the women sitting around a table—some holding children in their arms—and discussing what they could accomplish if they served.
Women of Ingenuity
During their time in office, the women proved they could make change happen. From the film, we learn of their many of their accomplishments:
- Peddlers required licenses
- Improved irrigation
- Established a Board of Health
- Domesticated and farm animals no longer allowed in the streets
- Prizes for best streets and sidewalks
- Plotted the cemetery
- Postmaster General convinced not to ship alcoholic drinks to the town
Viewers can enjoy clips from the touring play produced by Mayor Laycook. During several performances shown, we learn about fines for slingshots, and certain activities banned on Sundays. Such a long list of accomplishments showcases the council’s strength in not just wanting change but making it happen.
Women of Balance
Of all the lessons the movie shares about these women, the greatest is how well they seem to have found a balance between fulfilling their civic duties and their family responsibilities. In many ways, they represented the do-it-all wonder women of today. They set an example for future supermoms.
More than anything, these women show us what happens when you make a decision to see something through. These five determined women showed what happens when people work together to improve their community.
A Continued Legacy
How wonderful it is to think that women who have passed on, who wore long skirts to their ankles, who were faithful to their religion, and who made up their minds to embrace whatever role they felt they needed to fill embodied such modern thinking. It is no surprise we continue to remember the first all women council.
The council’s tenure ended in 1914, the same year Mother’s Day became a national holiday. What a fitting coincidence. Western Legends Round-Up encourages all women to continue the legacy of Kanab’s first all women city council—carrying forth their enduring accomplishments. Happy Mother’s Day.