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Could A Small Town Kansas Woman Be On The New $10 Bill?

In June, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that an historical female figure would be pictured on the $10 bill. The bill is being changed to address potential security threats to currency notes. A group in Argonia, Kansas, is working to nominate a woman named Susanna Madora Salter.

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Credit Abigail Wilson
The home of Susanna Madora Salter.

On the corner of Osage and Garfield Streets an hour southwest of Wichita in Argonia, Kansas, is a simple brick house with a fresh coat of crimson red paint. It looks like it belongs in one of those small ceramic villages people put up on their mantle at Christmastime. In the yard is a carved wooden sign that reads Salter Home Museum.

Mary Beth Bookless is the curator of the museum, which was once the home of the first woman in the United States ever elected to the office of mayor. Her name was Susanna Madora Salter. She was elected as mayor of the tiny town of Argonia in 1887.

“She was about 5’ 5” and probably weighed about 105 (pounds)," Bookless says. "She was very slight and like most of the women of the time, a very strong woman, very determined."

Women in Kansas gained the right to vote only in municipal elections in 1887, the same year Salter was elected. She was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, a group that worked to enforce state prohibition laws. The WCTU nominated a slate of candidates for local office. But when some men in town who were against prohibition, saw the list, they decided to play a joke and put Susanna Salter’s name down for mayor.

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Credit wikipedia.org
Susanna Madora Salter.

“They thought she was only going to get 20 votes and it would be a joke on the WCTU," Bookless says. "But instead, the word got out and she won with two-thirds of the vote, and the men were pretty sad for a long time that their joke didn’t go over very well.”

One of the first things she did as mayor was make hard cider and billiards both illegal. And while Salter’s year in office didn’t prove very eventful otherwise, she got a lot of attention, including notes from well-known public figures including one of the most prominent voices in women’s suffrage.

“Some of the best were the notes she got from Susan B. Anthony," Bookless says. "They're both dated October 17, 1887, sent from Rochester New York."

"Perfect equality of rights for women, civil and political is the demand of yours sincerely."
"Greetings to the first woman ever elected to the office mayor of a city, from her friend and admirer Susan B. Anthony."

Reporters from all over the world came to cover meetings during Salter’s term. And while a lot of the focus was on how she was dressed and whether or not she was lady-like, Salter’s position as mayor was highly regarded. Salter museum Curator Mary Beth Bookless reads from a copy of newspaper article.

“They're talking here about many foreign papers, carried notices, articles," she says. "The official organ of the grand lodge of western South Africa temperance news carried an article about the mayor in 1888. The women's magazine in Stockholm carried her picture and an article in 1890. It says, ‘the publicity which the American and foreign papers gave Mrs. Salter brought a deluge of mail to her office.’”

In the fall of 1887, Salter was invited to speak at the Kansas Women’s Equal Suffrage Association's convention in Newton alongside several key figures in the women’s suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony.

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Credit Abigail Wilson
Stacy Davis, interim director of the Sumner County Economic Development Commission, Dale Weishaar and Mary Beth Bookless, both of the Salter Home Museum, stand in front of Salter's home in Argonia, Kan.

"When Mrs. Salter was introduced to Susan B. Anthony before the program began, Mrs. Anthony, instead of shaking the mayor's hand, slapped her on the shoulder and exclaimed, 'Why, you look just like any other woman, don't you?'"

Stacy Davis is the interim director of the Sumner County Economic Development Commission. Along with Mary Beth Bookless, she hopes to share Susanna Salter’s story and started the campaign to get her image on the new $10 bill.

“I had actually seen it on the news that they were changing the face of the $10 bill and that they were selecting a woman and so I went to work the next day and the director at the time, I said, '[I] saw this on the news. What do you think about Mrs. Salter?' And she had the same thought as I did,” Davis says.

Davis immediately started to get the word out on Facebook and Twitter using #TheNewTen, a social media campaign created by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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Credit treasury.gov
Rosie Rios, the 43rd and current Treasurer of the United States.

Rosie Rios, who works for the federal department, says that a big rule for someone featured on any currency is that they must be deceased. There are also themes within groups of bills that are produced.

Rios says that for this family of notes, the theme is democracy. "So the goal is to select someone who best represents the theme of democracy,” she explains.

For the new $10 bill, the chosen portrait will be of “a woman who was a champion for our inclusive democracy.” Alexander Hamilton will still have some presence, but they’re not sure what that means yet. To get feedback and submissions from the public, Rios says the Department of the Treasury is working online through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“The other piece is the social interaction; to host roundtables, town halls, meet with the everyday members of the public to get their feedback and comments,” she says.

And while the Secretary of the Treasury is the only person who actually gets to decide who’s portrait will be on the new $10 bill, Mary Beth Bookless and Stacy Davis say that Susanna Madora Salter, meets all of the necessary criteria.

“The fact that she was 27 when she was elected mayor, I think, is important too because she was strong enough but young enough to embrace the changes that were happening in the nation at the time and to be a part of them," Bookless says.

“She is really truly the epitome of what they’re looking for because she was the first female mayor,” Davis says.

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Credit www.kshs.org
This brief note, written by William Watson, former mayor of Argonia, Sumner County, informed Susanna Salter that she was elected to serve as mayor in the election held two days earlier. Salter was the first elected female mayor in the United States.

Susanna Madora Salter served as mayor of Argonia, Kansas, for a year before choosing not to run again in 1888 so she could take care of her children. The Department of Treasury expects to unveil the new ten in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Want to now more about the $10 bill? Click here to see the Department of Treasury's timeline. 

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To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Follow Abigail Wilson on Twitter @AbigailKMUW