The first female U.S. mayor was nominated by men as a joke. She won with 2/3 of the vote.
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When it came to women's suffrage, Kansas was a little ahead of the game in the late 19th century. Even if they didn't mean to be.

Eight years before the U.S. granted women the right to vote in national elections, the Sunflower State became the first state in the Midwest to allow women to vote in statewide elections—and 25 years before that, women gained the right to vote in Kansas city elections.

On April 4, 1877, just weeks after women were given the right to vote municipally, the small town of Argonia, Kansas held its mayoral election. On the ticket was a 27-year-old mother of four and officer of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) named Susanna Salter.

Salter hadn't planned on running. In fact, she didn't even know she was in the running until her name showed up on the ballot.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, the WCTU wanted Argonia to enforce the state's prohibition law and made that their focus in the city's elections. They called a caucus, and with Salter presiding over the meeting in the absence of the union's president, chose a slate of men they thought would be worthy candidates.

However, some men in Argonia had an issue with both the WCTU and women getting involved in politics. They didn't want to see "petticoat rule" with women being able to vote, so they set about scheming. Two of the men attended the WCTU caucus and heckled it. They attempted to nominate a candidate and were voted down.

Afterward, 20 of these men held a secret caucus with the intention to embarrass the WCTU and teach the women of the town a lesson. They put together a slate of candidates that were identical with the one the WCTU put together, only they replaced the mayoral candidate's name with Salter's. It was a prank. They figured their slate would only get their 20 votes, assuming the WCTU would vote for the original slate of WCTU candidates and that no men would vote for a woman.


Candidates didn't have to file before election day, so voters arrived to find Salter's name on the ballot—a fact she herself didn't know until representatives from the Republican party showed up at her house to ask her about it. She was in the middle of the family washing when they explained the prank to her and asked if she would agree to serve if she got elected. She said she would, and they responded, "All right, we will elect you and just show those fellows who framed up this deal a thing or two."

The Republicans campaigned all day to get out the vote, explaining to people what the faction of men were up to. And members of the WCTU showed up in droves to vote for the new slate with Salter's name, instead of the mayoral candidate they had chosen as a caucus.

As a result, Salter ended up getting two-thirds of the vote in the town, totally upending the pranksters' plan. At first, her husband was appalled to have her name on the ticket, but after she won, he quickly came around. He even joked about being "husband of the mayor," which of course had never been a thing before.

Salter wasn't exactly politically green, either. Her father had been the town's first mayor, and her father-in-law, Melville J. Salter, was a former Kansas lieutenant governor.

And the men found out during the first council meeting that their fears of "petticoat rule" were unfounded. When Salter called the meeting to order, she said, "Gentlemen, what is your pleasure? You are the duly elected officials of this town, I am merely your presiding officer." She had no intention of strongarming the men on the council.

Though the council actually didn't do much that was of consequence, Saltern made national news with her historic win. When a reporter from the New York Sun attended one of the first council meetings, Salter put on a good show for him, knowing she was under the spotlight and setting a precedent for women in politics. She succeeded. According to the Kansas Historical Society, "When he wrote his story, he described the mayor's dress and hat, and pointed out that she presided with great decorum. He noted that several times she checked discussion which she deemed irrelevant, showing that she was a good parliamentarian. The councilmen, though respectful, bore the air of protesting pupils of a not over-popular school mistress."

Salter received international attention, even from nobility, with letters of congratulations coming from France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and other European countries. And editorial reviews of Salter's job performance ranged from overtly positive, with the Sun referring to her as "an intelligent, capable and conscientious officer, fully equal to all the requirements of her position," to overtly sexist, with one paper saying, "She is tired of the burdens of office. [She plans to] return to private life and leave the government of Argonia to the care of the sterner sex. Mayor Salter's experience proves that woman suffrage is its own cure."

An anonymous person sent her a notecard with a pair of men's pants drawn on them with the following poem:

When a woman leaves her natural sphere,
And without her sex's modesty or fear
Assays the part of man,
She, in her weak attempts to rule,
But makes herself a mark for ridicule,
A laughing-stock and sham.
Article of greatest use is to her then
Something worn distinctively by men --
A pair of pants will do.
Thus she will plainly demonstrate
That Nature made a great mistake
In sexing such a shrew.

Salter dutifully completed her term, but made it clear she had no interest in running officially, wanting instead to dedicate herself to caring for her young children. (She had actually borne her youngest child during her mayoral term.) But her election seemingly set off a chain reaction, as many Kansas cities also elected female mayors the following year.

That certainly wasn't the punchline those 20 men were hoping for when they jokingly put her name on the ballot. But well done, gentlemen, for ultimately giving women the last laugh.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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