All-Woman Town Council
Kanab's All-Woman Town Council
By Barb Pyles
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 good joke at first, until Kanab citizens voted in an all-woman ticket. 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 town council and mayor in the U.S., and many say, the world! Utah women were the only ones in the U.S. 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. The election made news all over the world.
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 of 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 town to protect property from menacing floods. A health board was appointed. Cattle, horses and other animals could no longer run loose.
The women were tough. Dogs not registered before a certain date were killed. People were prohibited from building a corral, stable or feed yard within 50 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.
Kanab was not a bad town, but the 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 12 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. When the ladies were asked to run again, Hamblin said, “When everyone else in town has had a trial, we’ll take another turn.”