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December 6, 2019

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Once upon a time in Ada

Why has Ada never had a woman mayor?

By Leland Crouse
Excerpt from Small Town Sampler
Betty Miller
1 November, 1989 The Ada Herald

November is a month of politics. As the election returns determine the big city mayors and council winners, often they are women. Small towns in our area have women mayors and women on their town councils. Why has Ada never had a woman mayor? Why is Betty Elzay the first and only woman ever elected to council in our 136 year-history? I decided to go back in our town history and see if I could find some answers.

The early directories tell us something about women’s activities because in 1896 the Rice Ferguson Directory lists occupations of residents. Although many of the women kept boarding houses 15 dressmakers and 11 music teachers are listed. Because of the Normal School many women are teachers. L.J. Kemp listed as owner of the Kemp Drugstore is Laura Jane Kemp, and Mary Evans is listed as a physician.

The 1911 Ada and Rural Directory gives property owners, and women’s names appear frequently along with the entertainers, nurses and milliners as farm owners, home owners, and commercial growers. (Raymond Sharp is listed as a milliner; obviously he was a pioneer in male rights.) History shows us that local women were active in business but the old newspapers I found no women running for town government positions. Of course they couldn’t vote until 1920.

In 1895 when Ohio passed a law saying women could serve on a school board, Agnew Welsh records that 50 women met in March of the same year and nominated Mrs. Mollie Hichernell and Mrs. E.L. Pendleton for position on the Ada school board. Both women were elected.Maybe that’s what it takes-a group to set a precedent. The school board has proved to be one place where a woman can be elected to office and some have served as president.

In 1887 Miss Alberta Smith served as editor of the University Herald “for a few months.” The yellow pages of the 1938 Ada telephone book list under “Attorneys,” Justin McElroy, W.W. Runser, Okey VanDyne and Mary Wolfrom, the first practicing attorney in Ada. Evelyn Wright became the first woman employee at the Ada post office in 1966. In 1981 Betty Elzay won her seat on council, winning in all four precincts. Her closest opponent had 103 fewer votes. Now we have out first woman pastor, Julianne Smith, at the Lutheran Church.

Women have always taken an unofficial active role in village affairs and often appear at council sessions to support or protest council decisions. In 1904 when Ada was paving Main Street, the university wanted part of Peach Avenue (later renamed University) for Brown building on the corner. The ladies, and some men appeared at council meeting to call it “dark, underhand plots against the people.” The women also protested at that meeting new walks which would necessitate cutting down trees. In 1961 they fought, along with many male supporters, to save the trees in Railroad Park. In 1972 they worked for a junk ordinance and finally got a watered-down version. If women have official roles they are usually appointments to safety or beautification committees. History shows we have elected county officials who are women but other than village clerk or a school board member, the slate is usually male in Ada.

In 1965 when a citizen advisory committee was formed to plan for urban renewal and the “beautification: of the corner across from the University main campus, the original 21 members were male. On the advice of the Columbus consultant, Robert Mott,  a few women were added. In 1971, when Ada completed its Comprehensive Community Plan, Joan Dornbusch and Nancy DaPore were listed as members of the Citizens Planning Committee. Other women worked on the zoning section and future development.

In our community, women are nationally known scholars, sell real estate, publish our news, dispense prescriptions, run banking institutions and invest our money, teach our children, take care of our emergency medical needs, have a knowledge of business as owners or partners, serve on our library and church boards, participate in farm management, are members of the Chamber of Commerce, count votes and raise money for town projects. These abilities would seem to qualify them to make decisions on town matters.

Envision, if you can, this possibility for Ada’s future; a woman mayor, a woman village administrator, a council composed of at least four women, a woman engineer to oversee civil problems of waste and water, a woman in charge of industrial and commercial development, a woman legal counsel for the town, a woman police chief, a woman fire chief, a woman school superintendent and two women principals, a woman president and several women deans at the university. What would happen to the town?

I didn’t find any answers in local history, but perhaps in the future a few good women will come to the a and we’ll all find the answers. After all, the twenty-first century is close at hand.

This article was written in 1989. How many changes have come about?