Petticoat Politics

Posted by | June 7, 2013

On June 8, 1948, the town election in Clintwood, VA drew national and international attention when the voters elected an all-female town council and mayor. The Petticoat Government consisted of Mrs. Minnie “Sis” Miller, mayor, and Mrs. Ferne W. Skeen, Mrs. Buena H. Smith, Mrs. Ida M. Cunningham, Mrs. Kate Friend, and Mrs. Marion Shortt, town council.

Letters poured in from around the world wishing them luck and expressing amazement that an all woman government could be elected anywhere. The State Department featured the story in its Voice of America broadcast.

The idea shouldn’t have seemed so far-fetched. It had already happened twice before in US states.

The Petticoat Government: Marian Shortt, Beuna Smith, Minnie Miller (mayor), Ida Cunningham, Ferne Skeen, and Kate Friend. Courtesy Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park.

The Petticoat Government: Marian Shortt, Beuna Smith, Minnie Miller (mayor), Ida Cunningham, Ferne Skeen, and Kate Friend. Courtesy Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park.

In Oregon, women gained suffrage in 1912, eight years before much of the nation, and by 1916 the women of Umatilla, OR took control of city government through their electoral option. Mrs. C.G. Brownell held a card party and the women attending decided what roles each could take in city government.

They did not inform the men of the community and the elections proceeded quietly. Since candidates did not have to declare themselves, E.E. Starcher and C.G. Brownell confidently expected re-election. But the town of 198 people elected Laura Starcher as mayor, Lola Merrick as treasurer, Bertha Cherry as recorder, Florence Brownell, Gladys Spinning, Anna Means and Stella Paulu to council positions.

In her acceptance speech, Laura Starcher promised to provide Umatilla a progressive administration, replace failing electric street lights, install sewers, and clean up the town. The womens’ administration accomplished Starcher’s promises and more, installing warning signs at railroad crossings, adding a library to the community budget, and framing ordinances for speed limits, parking regulations, and fire protection.

By 1920, the women of Umatilla, “Having accomplished what they had set out to do four years earlier,” bowed out of the political scene.

And in 1925, shortly after the 19th Amendment was passed, the voters of Winslow, AR elected an all female government consisting of Mayor Maude Duncan and Council members Lyda Cole, Florence Marley, Audie Crider, Bee Chervery, Daisy Miller, Etta Black, Martha Winn, Virginia C. Dunlap and Stella Winn. It worked so well that every single woman was elected to a second term.

By all accounts, Clintwood’s Petticoat Government, which took the reins in September 1948, was highly successful. Miller’s administration undertook many important improvement projects, including: clean-up campaigns, expanding parking in town, installing parking meters in the downtown area, purchasing a fire truck, organizing a systematic garbage disposal plan, and improving traffic hazards throughout town. Six of the women served only one term, however, Mrs. Ferne W. Skeen and Mrs. Buena H. Smith successfully sought re-election.

Sources:
www.ccrh.org/comm/umatilla/women.htm

http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mtnties/petticoat.html

www.oldstatehouse.com/exhibits/arkansas-women/organizations/petticoat_politics.asp

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