March is Women in History month. Each Saturday, I’ve been shining a spotlight on a woman from the past who did something extraordinary, like Fern Hobbs, known as the girl who tamed a wild West town, and Minnie Hill, the second licensed female steamboat captain in the country.
Today, I thought I’d share a little about a woman who did something so remarkable, I’m not sure many women today would attempt the feat – she defeated her husband to become mayor of their town!
In 1916, Laura Stockton Starcher defeated her husband twenty-six to eight to become mayor of Umatilla, Oregon, a small Eastern Oregon town of not quite two hundred, in what became known as the Petticoat Revolution.
Laura Jane Stockton was born in parents moved to Parma, Idaho, where she lived for many years in Idaho before moving to Oregon. No details were available on how and when she met her husband, E.E. Starcher, but in 1912, the couple moved to Umatilla, a town located on the southern bank of the Columbia River. It was a community where most everyone knew everyone else.
It was also a place where laws were slackly enforced and city improvement had ground to a standstill. Instead of progressing into the new century, it was sliding back toward a the days gambling and lawlessness.
The women of the town decided to do something about it.
Under the guise of a card party held at the home of Mrs. C.G. Bromwell, (her husband was a city council member), the women discussed the particulars of who would run for which office and agreed to quietly, discreetly seek support without revealing the details.
On the morning of December 5, 1916, no one expected a big voter turnout. The same men had held the same town office positions for years. The polls opened at eight that morning with men sauntering in to vote. No one even bothered to order ballots. Names were written on a slip of paper and dropped into the poll box.
Since no women arrived to vote in the morning, although Oregon had given them the right in 1912), it seemed men assumed they were at home doing their daily tasks of cleaning and cooking.
Much to the shock of the men in town, women arrived at the polls around two that afternoon and they wrote names on those slips. Names that would upend the present councilmen.
Only 38 votes were cast for the mayoral position, but Laura beat her husband 26-8 (and the other four votes are lost to history).
Laura Stockton Starcher was voted in as Mayor of Umatilla. Lola Merrick became town treasurer. Bertha Cherry was elected auditor. Gladys Spinning, Florence Brownell, H.C. Means, C.G. Bromwell, and Stella Paulu took all but two of the city councilmen seats.
Perhaps the most stunned person in town that day was Laura’s husband, the current mayor. He had no idea his wife intended to run against him, and demanded a recount, but the results were the same. The women had received the majority of the votes.
In an interview in the the Idaho Statesman, Laura said, “Well, my husband’s administration claimed that the reason it accomplished so little for the city was that it was impossible to get the entire council, or even a quorum, out. Now, I intend to get my council out in this way. We will all be women except the two holdovers, men, who, I understand, are going to learn to do fancy work, in order to feel at home with us, and I shall turn the city council meetings into afternoon teas if necessary, in order to be sure of the full council being present.”
At first, the election made humorous news throughout the nation, referred to as the “Petticoat Government.” The women were often referenced in publications by their married initials: the new mayor, Laura Starcher, was listed as Mrs. E.E. Starcher. Regardless, the women soon proved that they were serious about their newly elected positions.
In her first public address, Laura stated: “Umatilla will be given a business administration and a progressive administration. We believe the women can do many things and effect many reforms in this town that the men did not dare do. We propose to replace the electric street lights, which the present administration removed, clean up and improve the streets, lay sewers and do everything we can to improve the physical and moral health of Umatilla. We shall enforce the laws strictly.”
Within a month, the Laura and her council members had paid the outstanding balance of the town’s electric bill and installed several new street lights.
During the next four years, the council funded projects to improve streets and sidewalks, improved electrical and water maintenance, and created the city’s first “Cleanup Weeks.” They also founded a town library, designed a plan for monthly garbage pickup, and appointed a city health official during the 1918 smallpox epidemic.
Sadly, Laura only served less than a year due to illness. Stella Paula took over the position and when she was elected mayor in 1918.
In 1920, an all-male council was voted in, but the ladies of Umatilla had proven a point. The women could govern as well as the men (and sometimes better!).
Although there is no mention of it, a woman claiming to be Laura’s niece later stated that the Starcher’s divorced after the election, and Laura suffered from health issues some called “nervous breakdowns.”
At any rate, Laura stepped up and because a symbol of courage and hope to women across the country, particularly when some women still fighting for the right to vote.
Laura eventually returned to Idaho and she passed away in Parma on May 2, 1960.
What woman (famous or otherwise) has had an impact on your life?
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49 thoughts on “Women in History – Laura Stockton Starcher”
Susan B Anthony comes to mind. I loved the post. thanks
She’s such an amazing figure in history!
I loved this little piece of history. I was really impressed by Sojourner Truth.
She has such a fascinating story!
What a wonderful story and example of female empowerment and leadership. A success story.
Lucretia Mott and the other women at Seneca Falls. We owe so much to them.
We do owe so much to those who stepped forward way back then. Thanks for stopping in today!
Good morning Shanna- What an amazing blog. Laura was such an inspiration to Women. Way to go girl! Here is something that’s awesome only an hour from my home.
The 1st All Woman City Council in Syracuse, KS.
When Kansas Territory was organized in the 1850’s, women’s issues were a priority. National leaders saw the areas as battlegrounds for women’s rights. Kansas women gained the right to vote in school district elections in 1861 and municipal elections in 1887. The crusade for equal voting rights, however, continued to elude supporters. In 1912, eight years before the ratification of the national woman suffrage amendment, Kansas became the eighth state to extend equal voting rights to women, according the Kansas Historical Society.
While Syracuse, Kansas, has the distinction of having the first all female mayor and city council in 1887, Edgerton – only three years later – wasn’t too far behind
Way to go Ladies.
Oh, I love the history you shared, Tonya! That is amazing! Love that they had all female city council way back then! Such an incredible thing for that time in history!
Jane Addams and Helen Keller
Two great choices!
I loved this story, Shanna! Go Laura! But my first thought was – what was conversation like at the dinner table that night? LOL. I was NOT surprised they ended up divorcing. No doubt her husband was hugely humiliated!
Congrats on your new release!!
Thank you, Pam! Yes, I’m sure things were a bit tense in their house, but I’m with you – go Laura! Despite the personal cost, those women were determined to make a difference in their community, and they did!
Wow I had no idea – but my Mom is who lead us to believe in ourselves and to voice our opinion – never take anything lying down if it is wrong!! Thanks!
What a great example your Mom set for you. That’s awesome! Thank you for stopping in today!
My mom had girlfriends from her twenties until each one passed away. Three of them were missionaries into the jungles of New Guinea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Because we cared for my mom who lived next door for nearly 25 years, we enjoyed many visits from these friends. What I learned from these girlfriends is immeasurable. Their faith was the cornerstone of their lives. Attitudes of never giving up, praying circumstances through, having fun, loving their husband’s, learning to be a good cook/baker, etc. All have passed away except for one. Her name is Fauna Fay. Ron and I hope to see her this spring as we travel to Tennessee. She is 97. I treasure these dear friends. Forever and always.
Shanna … your post just gave me the grins! Loved reading it.
Oh, Kathy! What a joy and a blessing to have those special women in your life. I hope you have a beautiful visit with Fauna Fay the next time you see her. Thank you so much for sharing about them and stopping in today!
What a great post! Thank you very much for sharing!
Thank you for stopping in today, Melanie!
What fascinating history, Shanna! I love the idea of the women stepping up to make a difference. Even if Men eventually did take over all the offices, those ladies gave them a kick in the pants and proved that changes could be made and no doubt spurred them to do better in the future.
It’s amazing what women could (and can) do when they worked together. I think they made such an impact in their community, even when they were no longer in office. Thanks for stopping in, Karen!
My mother of course, my grandmother, and my pastor’s wife who was a mentor tome as a new Christian. Of famous women, Rosa Parks is the first one I thought of.
That’s so wonderful about the women who have mentored you. I’ve had some incredible mentors in my life and am so grateful for them. Thank you for stopping in today!
Wow, I had no idea of this, Thank you so much for sharing this great true story! Way to go ladies! The one that comes to mind first is Rosa Parks, she was a great lady and also Mother Teresa. Have a great day and a great rest of the week Shanna, Thank you for sharing this Awesome true story with us.
The two women you mentioned are so remarkable to our past. Thank you for stopping in today!
My grandmother was a huge influence on my life…
That’s so neat, Colleen! So wonderful you had an amazing grandmother!
Three women who influenced me were teachers I had in grade school and high school. I think of them whenever I see ads or programs promoting the need for more girls to take STEM courses. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Beatar, taught science and had a science fair at a time when very few grade school teachers taught science. Her sister, Mrs Napolitano, came to our high school to teach after leaving a job as a General Electric research scientist. Chemistry class was always fun when the boys would get her off track from the day’s lesson plan. She would be writing formulas and symbols on the chalk board that most of us didn’t fully understand until college chemistry classes. Mrs. Stewart was our advanced algebra and calculus teacher. We all thought she looked more like a movie star or model than a math teacher. They all taught us anybody could be a scientist or mathematician just by being themselves.
Hi Alice, I love that you had such influential and amazing teachers. That is fantastic! What you shared about them must paints a picture of them in my minds eye. They all sound like delightful people who really had in an impact on their students. Love it!
Thank you for sharing this wonderful post about this wonderful woman. When I look at women that I want to be like, I look to my mother. She was a godly woman who believed in family. She had five children (I was the oldest) and made sure that all of us knew about respect and God She made sure that we all knew that other people were also made by God and that we should treat everyone the way God would treat them. Let me tell you, there were some that I just wanted to bury. Sigh But that would not have been good. LOL She was a homemaker and I learned a lot from here. I still do many of those things today. If I can be half the woman that my mom was I will be one happy lady. God blessed us all to have mom in our lives. She volunteered at church as a young teens mentor and we got to live what it means to have Christ in our lives daily.
Oh, Lori! Your mother would be so proud of you! What a lovely thing to have a mom like her to guide and influence you. So happy for you to have her as an example to follow.
That’s wonderful your mom was such an influence in your life!
Reading what those ladies accomplished in that town made me squirm with delight! It made me very sad to hear about her marriage and mental health. She approached the task with such modesty and humor! “The two holdovers, men, who, I understand, are going to learn to do fancy work, in order to feel at home with us”–so funny!
My sibling and aunt are the two most good-natured, polite, well-humored people I know. I learn a lot just by watching them interact with the world.
As for famous people, I adore Sandy Duncan and Hayley Mills–if I could choose my personality, I’d be a combination of both of them.
My favorite author is Frances Hodgson Burnett. She wrote so much besides the two or three children’s classics she’s most famous for. I love her writing style and the themes she develops. So much revolves around positive psychology and carrying yourself with grace and dignity.
You had some wonderful influences, Abby. Love that your sibling and aunt give you positive examples, as well as the more famous people you listed. Humor is so important for our healthy and happiness. Thank you for stopping in today!
My mom..She was a true Christian woman that brought me up right. She was Gramma Dot to many many children. She was one of a kind.
That is so wonderful, Rhonda! So glad you had her influence in your life! Thank you for sharing that with us!
I guess would have to say my older sister. She is the one that really got me started reading because she was always a big reader. We always shared our books with each other until she passed away a few years ago. I really miss her. Enjoyed your post.
So neat about your sister being an influence and inspiring you to read. I’m so sorry you lost her, but glad for all the books and joy you shared.
Thank you for this piece of history. It just goes to show that women are quite capable of shaking things up and “taking care business.” It is frustrating that today so many men are still patronizing and feel they are more able to handle things than a woman. Leave most of them home to care for a household, children, plus a job, and that would prove just how wrong they are.
There is really not just one woman that has impacted me over the years. It has been a series of women who fought for their place in “a man’s world” and advanced the studies in fields of science, social sciences, education, etc. I admire everyday women who struggled to get an education, earn a living, and raised their children often without help or encouragement. They are an inspiration to the younger generation and show what grit and determination can achieve. Any one of us can be an inspiration for another person, male or female.
I loved what you shared, Patricia: “Any one of us can be an inspiration for another person, male or female.” How wonderfully true! May we all be an inspiration and work to lift others up. Thank you for stopping in today!
Fabulous post, Shanna!
Thanks so much for dropping in, Caryl!
My Mom and my aunts had showed me how to stand up for myself as well as not to allow a man to tell me I could not do anything I set my mind to do. As a child, I could not read enough about Florence Nightengale. Thank you for a wonderful post. God bless you.
That’s wonderful you had such strong, amazing women in your life, Debbie. So glad they were there for you, and how fun about Florence Nightengale! Love it!
My mother who didn’t have a driver’s license until I was in Jr high school. Also my daughter who has cancer. She has been through over 13 surgeries, chemo, and radiation and still keeps fighting.
Oh, Pam! I’m so sorry about your daughter’s battle with cancer. She sounds like a fighter! Sending good thoughts for her. And that’s so neat your mom was an inspiration to you too!
There were three wonderful women who taught me how to be a godly woman and a pastor’s wife. Rosella Fox, Lucelle Wilson, and Catherine Pruitt my pastor’s wife. Two of them have gone home to be with the lord and I miss them.
As far as historical women, we have watched the movie Harriet 3 times and the woman was amazing. Fearless in doing what she knew God had chosen for her to do.
Hi Elaine, It’s awesome you had those beautiful women to guide you. Sorry you’ve lost two of them. So hard to say goodbye to people who mean so much to us. I haven’t seen Harriet yet, but look forward to!
I loved this glimpse into history. So first influencer is my mom. Historical women of influence for me are Corrie ten Boom, Anne Frank and Fanny Crosby. Thanks for the chance to win a prize.
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