The Sumner County section tells the story of the first female elected mayor in the United States: Argonia Mayor Susanna Salter
WDN News Report
A new exhibit has recently opened at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka. The museum is located at 6425 SW 6th Ave. The hours for the museum are 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed on holidays.
The exhibit showcases stories and artifacts from each of the 105 Kansas counties. The exhibit will be active through February 2020. The showing for Sumner County mentions the story of Susanna Salter, the first elected female mayor in the United States.
Susanna Madora Salter was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and a young mother of 27 years, when she was elected by the people of Argonia as the first woman mayor in the United States. Her home was built in 1884 by Oliver Kinsey with soft bricks that were fabricated on site. Kinsey was the first mayor of Argonia. The home has been restored with furnishings of that time period and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. In the years since, the home has been renovated just once, with the foundation and drainage all redone. The addition of the retaining wall took place in the 1970s to keep the house stabilized.
In recent years, thanks to the Heritage Trust Fund from the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka, the Salter House received a twenty percent matching grant of 90,000 dollars. It is a very competitive grant, said Curator Mary Beth Bookless when we spoke to her last year. In the end, it took three years for the contractor to get all of the recent major renovations completed.
Bookless said that the shop class at Argonia High School had worked on the new front porch for the house. The local Wesleyan Church even offered to assist in painting the old church now located behind the Salter House. “All of this gets the community involved and doesn’t let them take things for granted. The younger we can get kids involved, the best shot we all will have,” Bookless said last summer. Gazing over to the north at the old, white church, Bookless pointed out that it had actually been moved from Milan back in the 1970s.
Inside the old church is a vast storage of someone’s old natural rock collection that had been donated. It was so vast that the former owner of the rocks had needed a three car garage to store them all. Eventually, she said, the old church will be cleaned up as a museum for all of Argonia and Sumner County.
We were the first people she had let into the house in the past few years. Right away, Bookless mentioned that the electricity still was not turned back on yet. It certainly lent to the period feel as we stepped into the kitchen area. Bookless said that visiting children seemed to love the kitchen the best, noting that many of them would pick up the cast iron skillet and wonder if they really had to do this just to live.
The kitchen table was the first delivered piece of delivered furniture to Argonia via the Atchison and Topeka Railroad. Made by Mr. Salter himself, it still is in use today. Off to the side of the kitchen is the old pantry.
Continuing into the old house, Bookless showed off the dining room area. She pointed out that it would eventually be turned into an archive room for researchers. Gazing up at the ceiling, she mentioned that it was the next major repair task to be completed. For the past few decades, the roof had leaked, causing damage to the ceiling in this area. Looking down at the carpeting, she mentioned that it came from the old Arlington Hotel that had been located in Argonia.
Walking into the front parlor, she introduced us to the feinting couch over in the corner. A fainting couch is a couch with a back that is traditionally raised at one end. were popular in the 19th century, and were particularly used by women. Looking at the center of the room, one saw a stereoscope with assorted photos on the small table. Beyond that lay a piano with a violin setting on top of it. Bookless said it had been donated by the Brundage family of Argonia.
Stepping into Mrs. Salter’s room, Bookless pointed at the framed announcement on the wall announcing the victory of Mrs. Salter in her landslide election for mayor. There was also the World War 1 service flag as Mrs. Salter had sons who had served in that war. There were also the medals Mr. Salter, her husband, had won during his service in the Spanish-American War. Seeing the lapboard Mrs. Salter had used to write her many letters over the years, Bookless also mentioned that Mrs. Salter had written in her letters that, due to the loss of a baby during her time as mayor, it had led to her decision not to seek another term. Her family came first, Bookless said, but she had been honored to serve. Her term only had been for one year.
Taking one last look in this room, there was a book filled with international messages she had received after her election. These messages were very detailed, asking what she had been wearing, what had been said, etc. There was even a handwritten note from Susan B. Anthony. The international press had covered the story from as far away as South Africa.
Following her time in Argonia, she had moved with her husband to Oklahoma. After her husband’s death in 1916, she had moved to Norman, where she lived until her own death in 1961. She and her husband are buried in the Argonia Cemetery.