The First Woman Elected Mayor in the US

In 1887, Kansas granted women living in first, second and third-class cities the right to vote in municipal elections. One of these third-class cities was Argonia, Kansas. A group of men in Argonia did not want women or the temperance movement involved in any aspect of politics. So they made a joke nomination to humiliate the women in their town. They put a woman’s name on the ballot. They figured her overwhelming loss would show that women should stay out of politics. The woman they put on the ballot was an officer of the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Things didn’t work out the way they expected. Susanna Madora Salter became the first woman elected Mayor in Kansas and in the entire United States.

black and white portrait style photograph of Susanna Madora Salter. A three-quarters portrait shows a calm and serious expression on her face. Her hair is pulled back with curls framing her forehead. She's wearing a high collared dark dress with white turned collar and a broach at her throat. A simple chain hangs around her neck.

Early Life, Education & Marriage

On March 2, 1860, descendants of Quaker colonists from England, Oliver Kinsey and Teresa Ann White Kinsey, had a daughter. They named her Susanna Madora “Dora” Kinsey. They lived near Lamira in Belmont county, Ohio.

The family moved to an 80-acre Kansas farm in the Kaw valley near Silver Lake in 1872. Dora attended district schools there. In 1878, she entered Kansas State Agricultural College (present-day Kansas State University) in Manhattan. The college allowed her to skip her freshman year, as she had met her requirements in high school.

It was at the College she met a law student, Lewis Allison Salter. Salter was the son of former Kansas Lt. Gov. Melville J. Salter. He graduated in 1879.

In 1880, Dora’s health broke down due to overwork and forced her to leave college six weeks before graduation. 

She married Lewis Salter on September 1, 1880, at Silver Lake.


They moved to Argonia in 1882. The little Quaker village had a population of less than five hundred people. 

Salter ran a hardware store there. In 1883, Dora had her second child, Francis Argonia Salter. Francis was the first baby born in the village. 

Dora took care of their children and became an officer in the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

A year later, her parents moved to Argonia and bought the store, which operated under the firm name of Kinsey & Salter. Lewis Salter read law with a local attorney and prepared for the bar.

Their little town of Argonia was incorporated in 1885.

Introduction to Politics

Following Argonia’s incorporation, her father became the first mayor of the town and her husband, the city clerk. As city clerk, her husband wrote the city ordinances.

When the state granted women the right to vote in 1887, the Argonia WCTU called a caucus. Their president was absent, so Dora presided at the caucus. 

A group of men in Argonia didn’t want women to vote, especially women who campaigned for the prohibition of alcohol. Two of those men attended the WCTU caucus. They heckled and tried to nominate men who also opposed the WCTU. The rest of the WCTU voted them down..

The WCTU selected a ticket of men whom they considered worthy of the town’s offices, regardless of political labels. 

The group of opposing men held a secret caucus. They would teach the women to stay out of politics. The day before the election, they placed the name Susanna Madora Salter on the ballet without her knowledge. (Candidates did not have to be made public before election day back then.)

They were certain only the members of WCTU would vote for her and women would see her embarrassment and stay out of politics. 

Election Day

Dora learned of her nomination after the Polls opened on Election Day, April 4, 1887. The local Republican Party chairman saw her name on the Prohibition Party ticket and sent a delegation to her home. They found her doing the family laundry. 

They explained the trick and asked if she would serve if elected. When she agreed, the Republicans admitted they wanted to teach the tricksters a thing or two. They would not only vote for her, but campaign all day to see she got elected. The WCTU abandoned their ticket of men and also voted for her. 

Her husband, an early voter, came home angry at the trick played on his wife. Imagine his surprise when he learned she’d agreed to serve as mayor if elected. 

That afternoon, she went to the polls with her parents. It wasn’t proper to vote for oneself, so she left the box for Mayor unmarked.

Two days later, she received the official notification.

The twenty-seven-year-old mother of four, Dora Salter, won the election by a two-thirds majority.

News Traveled Fast 

News reporters descended on the little town to observe her during council meetings and to interview anyone they could. 

Debates raged in newspapers across the country. Some people objected to “petticoat rule.” Others took a “wait and see” attitude. Many cheered her on. A few made fun of her.

The newspapers mentioned she was only five feet, three inches tall and weighed only 128 pounds. One paper called her a “frontiersman’s wife, possessed of brawn and sinew, rather than pleasing plumpness.” An article with a Kansas City dateline said, “billiards will soon become a lost art in all the smaller towns in Kansas, for the women have entered politics for the purposes of reforming the men.”

Even foreign newspapers from as far away as Sweden and South Africa discussed the pros and cons of a female mayor.

Mayor Salter

At her first council meeting, Dora told the council members they were the elected officials, and she was merely their presiding officer. From most accounts, she presided over the meetings and the town with decorum, and respect, and attention to the letter and the spirit of the law.  

Years later, she learned that three members of the town council, also elected when she was, had been in the group of tricksters. 

Laura M. Johns, president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, took advantage of Dora’s election. She invited Dora to speak at the Kansas Women’s Equal Suffrage Association’s convention held at Newton. Appearing on the platform with Dora were Susan B. Anthony, Rachael Foster Avery, the Rev. Anna Shaw, and Henry Blackwell, husband of Lucy Stone. 

The Mayor had a Baby 

Dora had a son, Edward Argonia Salter, in 1887. Unfortunately, the baby died a few weeks later.

When newspapers learned the mayor had given birth while in office, Argonia received additional publicity. Newspapers articles voiced multiple opinions once again. Some saw this as a sign that women could handle public office as well as men. Others disagreed.

Summing Up Her Term

According to most newspaper accounts, Dora fulfilled her obligations as mayor. Some were complimentary. Others said she was “adequate.” She finished her term and did not seek re-election. She preferred to stay home and take care of her family.

Dora received a deluge of mail during her time in office. Answering the mail cost far more than her year’s salary of one dollar. 

Life After Office

Photograph of a red brick two-storied house with a gabled roof and three chimney stacks. There's a wood sign on a rock pedestal that proclaims it's the former home of Susan Madora Salter.

Dora and her family continued to live in Argonia until 1893. She and Lewis had nine children, eight of whom survived.

When the Cherokee strip was opened, her husband went to what is now Oklahoma. He filed a claim one mile south of Alva, Oklahoma. Soon after, they moved the family there.

They sold that farm in 1903 and moved to Augusta, where Lewis practiced law and established a newspaper, The Headlight. He edited and published the paper with the help of his oldest sons.

Later, Lewis moved the law office, the newspaper, and the family to the town of Carmen. He died on August 2, 1916.

Dora moved her family to Norman, Oklahoma, where her younger children attended the state university.She lived there for the rest of her life. 

Susanna Madora Slater died two weeks after her birthday in 1961, at 101. She was buried in Argonia, alongside her husband.

Argonia remains a small town of less than 500 residents and is about 50 miles southwest of Wichita. 


The citizens of Argonia honored Dora Slater on November 10, 1933. With her present, they unveiled a bronze plaque mounted on a stone base in the town square. Donated by the Woman’s Kansas Day Club, it read:

In Honor

First Woman Mayor in the
United States

She Served as Mayor of Argonia, Kansas,1887.

Born March 2, 1860

Marker Placed by
Woman’s Kansas Day Club,

After her election, more and more women across the country sought election and served in public offices. Though she never asked for it, Susanna Madora Slater blazed a trail for women in the United States. 

What if this happened to you?

Would you serve if elected?

If you like this post, you might like to read about another woman in history.


Kansas Historical Society

Smithsonian Magazine

Genealogy Bank



Image Credits

Top image by Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Second image, photo of the Salter home in Argonia, by Art Davis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leading on a White Horse, Girl Wants Voting Rights 

What image comes to mind when you think of the women’s suffrage movement in America? A woman in a long suffragette white dress? Is she Chinese? She was. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was a scholar, an activist for women, a champion for Chinese immigrants, and a leader in New York City’s Chinatown.

Image is an old black and white photo of Mabel Ping-Hua Lee. She is wearing a felt hat with a tall crown, her hair tucked up inside it and a tweed jacket with a scarf around her neck

Early Life

Mabel Lee was born on October 7, 1897 in Guangzhou (Canton City), Her father, Dr. Lee Tone, was a Baptist pastor and missionary. He moved to the United States when she was four years old to lead Chinatown’s Morningside Mission.

Lee stayed in China with her mother and grandmother. She studied Chinese with private tutors and learned English at a missionary school. She was a bright student. When she was nine years old, she won an academic scholarship called the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship. It was a scholarship program for Chinese students to be educated in the United States, funded by the Boxer Indemnity. Lee and her mother got a US visa and joined Lee’s father.

In 1905, Lee and her family moved to a tenement house at 53 Bayard Street in Chinatown. Lee attended Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn.

A Worldwide Movement

The women’s suffrage movement was worldwide. American leaders of the suffrage movement watched the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and how it led to women’s enfranchisement in China. The leaders in New York City invited Lee and her mother and a couple of other Chinese women to meet with them to explain what was happening in China. Lee educated the NYC Suffrage leaders about China and New York’s Chinese community. 

Women in the Guangdong province of China won the vote in 1912.


Black and white portrait photo of Mabel Lee in a cameo-shaped printed frame with the words "Chinese Girl Wants Vote" with the next line reading, "Ms Lee Ready to Enter Barnard, to Ride in Suffrage Parade."

Lee was sixteen years old when, on May 4, 1912, she rode a white horse and led a parade of about 10,000 suffrage supporters up New York City’s Fifth Avenue. According the New-York Tribune, Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, or NASA, followed her. Either Lee or Shaw carried a banner that read “NASA Catching Up with China.”


In 1912, Lee started at Barnard College. Barnard was an all-women’s school, founded because Columbia University refused to admit women to undergrad classes. Lee Majored in history and philosophy. She joined the debate club and the Chinese student’s association and wrote feminist essays for the Chinese Students’ Monthly.

Continued Advocacy

That publication featured her essay, “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage” in which she said that suffrage for women was necessary to a successful democracy. 

In 1915, the Women’s Political Union invited Lee to give a speech at a suffrage workshop. Her speech, “China’s Submerged Half,” argued, “The welfare of China and possibly its very existence as an independent nation, depend on rendering tardy justice to its womankind, for no nation can ever make real and lasting progress in civilization, unless its woman are following close to its men, if not actually abreast with them.”

Besides her activism for women’s rights, Lee spoke out about the limitations and discrimination Chinese students faced. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese immigrants from attaining citizenship and voting. 

Continuing her Education

Lee graduated from Barnard College. She earned her master’s degree in educational administration at Columbia Teacher’s College.  

In 1917, Columbia University’s graduate program accepted Lee. Columbia had admitted a few women to graduate programs since the 1880s. She was the vice president of the Columbia Chinese Club and associate editor of the Chinese Student’s Monthly.

Also in 1917, the state of New York gave women the right to vote. Of course, Chinese immigrants and many other women of color could not vote.

Lee became the first Chinese woman to graduate with a PhD in economics in 1921. She published her doctoral dissertation that year.

Image of her book it has a black cover with white text, an orange spine and corner decorations.

Her book, The Economic History of China, with Special Reference to Agriculture is still available for sale online.

The 19th Amendment

Passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote across the country. However, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect. 

Unfortunately, highly educated women had difficulty finding jobs. Especially highly educated non-white women.

Career Choices

Lee wanted to go back to China ever since high school. She hoped to start a girls’ school there.

In 1923, she took a trip to China. Where ever she went and whatever she did, she planned to come back to the US. Because she was not an American citizen, because she was Chinese, she had to request permission to return to the US. Her Ellis Island immigration documents show that she had to have American citizens write letters to swear she was who she said she was. She also had to prove she had been a student. Cheekily, she sent the immigration office her 621 page dissertation. 

Her father died in 1924. Lee took over his role as director of the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York City’s Chinatown. She was not a minister. She managed the church with input from the board of deacons (all males) and under the direction of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. 

Honor and Advocacy

Image of a brick building in the middle of a city block. The building has a mint green Chinese temple roof facade above the first floor doors and windows with cream-sickle orange pillars and a sign in Chinese in the middle of the green.

As director and in memory of her father, Lee raised funds to purchase the 5-story building at 21 Pell Street in Chinatown. In 1926, she bought the building. 

It became a community center for Chinatown. They offered vocational and English classes, a health clinic, and a kindergarten where Lee taught. 

She couldn’t secure the title for that building until 1954. She titled the building to the First Chinese Baptist Church, which became independent of the American Baptist Home Mission.

The church became the first self-supporting Chinese church in America, and still operates at the same address. 


Lee never married. She devoted herself to the Chinese community and maintained her economic independence her entire life. 

In 1943, when China became a member of the Allied Nations during World War II, the US repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). The quotas remained. The quotas allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants to become naturalized per year. Foreign born Chinese also had the right. 

There’s no known documentation that Lee ever became a United States citizen or ever voted.

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee died in 1966 at 70.


In 2018, Representative Nydia Velazquez introduced a bill to the US Congress to honor Mabel Lee. That year, the post office at 6 Doyers Street in Chinatown was officially renamed the Mabel Lee Memorial Post Office.

The First Baptist Chinese Church has always remembered and celebrated Lee. They maintain what little documentation remains of all the contributions Mabel Lee made to their community. In 1921, they celebrated the centennial of her PhD graduation. 

A Woman to Remember

It’s important for us women to remember Mabel Lee. She fought for our right to vote, even though she knew she couldn’t. Of course, she continued advocating for the Chinese. I don’t know how much of an influence she had on Congress. But she made a big impact on her community, on women’s right to vote, and on securing equal rights for immigrants. 

Did you know about Mabel Lee before you read this?

Did you know the US didn’t allow Chinese immigrants to be citizens before 1943?


Image Credits

The Daughter of the Desert

The story of the dashing British officer, known as Lawrence of Arabia, credits him with leading the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I. He’s a legend of history. Yet, there is another whose story we should know. The “Daughter of the Desert,” Gertrude Bell, made archeological, sociological, and political contributions to history. Significant enough, we should recognize her name along with (or more than) Lawrence of Arabia’s. Yet, history forgot or overlooked her story, a woman’s story, for years.

Early Life

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE, was born on the 14th of July 1868 in Washington, England. She had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy British family. Her grandfather was the Ironmaster Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816-1904), an industrialist and a Liberal member of Parliament. Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet, (1844-1931) was a progressive capitalist and mill owner. He made certain his workers were paid fair wages and had paid sick days. Her mother, Maria (née Shield) Bell, died after the birth of her second child, Gertrude’s brother, Maurice. Gertrude was three.

Gertrude’s father married Florence Ollie, a playwright and author) when Gertrude was seven. Florence eventually gave birth to Gertrude’s three half-siblings, Hugh, Florence, and Mary3. Gertrude, already close to her Father, grew close to her step-mother as well.

She was outspoken and independent and enjoyed horseback riding, among other activities. Her father and stepmother realized Gertrude wasn’t like the other girls. When she wasn’t reading or writing, she engaged in various “naughty behaviors” like scaling cliffs and other heights3. Unlike the parents of most girls of her class, who were tutored at home, her parents sent Gertrude to school.


At first, fifteen-year-old Gertrude was unhappy at Queen’s College, a girl’s school in London. But her insatiable appetite for learning helped her adjust. She excelled at her studies. 

Normally, at seventeen, girls in her class were presented at court and introduced to society. Society expected them to find a husband within three seasons. 

Gertrude completed her schooling at Queen’s College in 1886 and asked her father for permission to continue her studies at Oxford, which had recently allowed females to be included in certain programs. She first met T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) during her studies there. In 1888, she was the first woman to graduate in Modern History at Oxford. Hers was an honorary degree. Only males received academic degrees.

Social Life & Travel

She went to Bucharest with her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, and his family. Visits to Paris and other European cities followed. 

From 1890 to 1892, she made the rounds of London’s balls and banquets where young ladies met eligible bachelors, but didn’t find her match.

Gertrude’s uncle, Lascelles, became British minister at Tehran, Persia (Iraq). She joined him in May 1892, where she studied the Arabic and Persian languages. Describing Persia as “paradise,” Gertrude spent six months there and wrote a book, Persian Pictures, about her time there.

She took advantage of her privilege and family wealth to travel widely. Her travels include a world tour with her brother Maurice and a trip to Italy with her father. During her Alpine climbing adventures, she recorded ten new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps. Once she suffered frostbite after she and her guides clung to a rope on the side of a cliff for forty-eight hours during a terrifying storm of snow, hail, and lightning. 

Gertrude traveled to Turkey, Germany, and Jerusalem. She visited ancient sites in Syria, Lebonon, and Athens. All the while, she studied languages. She mastered Arabic, Persian (Farsi), Italian, French, German, and Turkish.

She Loved the Desert

But the Mesopotamia was the area she returned to over and over. She hired a guide, Fattuh, who became her confidante.

Throughout her travels to the desert, she learned about the people and cultures, established close relations with inhabitants and tribes. Being a woman, she could meet the wives and daughters of local notables. She didn’t take as much advantage of this as she might have. Her principal focus was meeting the shaikhs and leaders of Arab society.

Love Life

It was in Tehran that she met one of her uncle’s secretary, Henry Cadogan. She and Cadogan bonded over their love of poetry by Hafiz. They spent a lot of time together and eventually announced their engagement. Unfortunately, Cadogan was poor and in debt. Gertrude’s father would not approve the match. She returned to England to convince her parents to give their permission for her to marry Cadogan. While in England, Cadogan had died of pneumonia2 in 1893. Gertrude was heartbroken. She left England for Italy and Switzerland.

Her second chance at love came fourteen years later. She met the married British officer, Charles “Richard” Doughty-Wylie, in 1907. They never acted upon their feeling but exchanged letters expressing deep devotion to each other. He was killed in action at Gallipoli in April 1915. 

Some claim Gertrude, not Mrs. Doughty-Wylie, laid a wreath on his grave in November of that year.

Writing & Photography

In 1886, Gertrude published Persian Pictures, a photographic account of her trips to the Persian area. 

She published a book of poems translated from Persian to English, The Divan of Hafez, in 1897. It continues to be regarded as the best translation of that poet’s work in existence3

During her first solo journey through the desert in 1899, she photographed ancient sites, including Petra, Palmyra, and Baalbek. Once she learned photography and how to develop her photographs, she always took her camera and photographic equipment on her trips. Some of her photographs are the only remaining evidence of some antiquities that were destroyed later. 


Her grandfather died in 1904 and left her a large inheritance. She used the money to fund an archeological trip through the Near East. During the latter part of that trip, she hired Fattuh, her guide and confidante who traveled with her through the desert for years. 

In 1907, she published Syria: The Desert and the Sown, a book of her photographs and observations about the Middle East. She explored and mapped a swath from the remotest parts of Syria to the Persian Gulf. 

She co-wrote The Thousand and One Churches with Sir William M. Ramsay in 1909.

She published Amaranth to Amaranth in 1911 and The Palace and Mosque of Ukhaidir: A Study in Early Mohammadan Architecture in 1914.


A black and white photograph of the Gates of Ha'il taken by Gertrude Bell. The wall with it's open gate looks similar to a castle wall only with tooth-like projections from the top of the wall. To the left is a tall rectangular wall with small square windows. The top of the building has the same style projections on the top. To the right the wall bends at a forty five degree angle then turns op degrees and continues off the picture. At some distance behind that turn is a conical tower like structure. There are people standing in front of the wall near the open gates but they are too distant to see distinctly.

Gertrude met archaeologist David Hogarth in Italy during a trip there with her father. It was then she began an in-depth study of Greek antiquities3.

In Binbirkilise, she worked with Sir William M. Ramsay, an archeologist and New Testament scholar. Gertrude, Ramsay, and their staff excavated destroyed churches and buildings from the Byzantine era. 

Also in 1909, in the Hittite city of Carchemish, Gertrude met art historian Josef Strzygowski. He believed that Near East art, architecture, as well as religious and cultural concepts, influenced those of Europe. She worked with him on in writing about the influence of Armenian architecture on Europe.

It was also in Carchemish that she met her old school friend T. E. Lawrence again. Their friendship rekindled. They exchanged letters for years.

In 1909, Fattuh led her to the Fortress of Al-Ukhaydir (c750-775 CE), which no Westerner had yet seen. Gertrude mapped, measured, and photographed Ukhaydir. She wrote home about how her discovery would make her name a recognized archeologist2.  On her return, she visited archeologist Robert Koldewey’s site and team at Babylon. She told them of her discovery. Several of them quickly went to the fortress, photographed it and published their work in 1912, beating her publication date of 1914.

World War I

In August 1914, the British entered World War I. The Ottoman Empire entered the war in late fall. After a highly placed friend’s recommendation, the British War Office asked Gertrude for her assessment of the situation in Ottoman Syria, Mesopotamia, and Arabia. Her response detailed her thoughts.

Gertrude volunteered with the Red Cross in France and England. She served as part of the Wounded & Missing Enquiry Department that coordinated communications about the wounded and casualties between army, hospitals, and worried families.


The leaders of the Arab Bureau summoned her to Cairo in November 2015. Headed by Colonel G. Clayton and Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth (the archeologist and historian she’d worked with). T. E. Lawrence was also there. He had joined the Arab bureau in late 1914. 

As part of the Arab Bureau, she spent part of her time in British India, then in Basra. She joined the staff of Chief Political Office Perry Cox. She traveled the region from Basra to Baghdad, assessed the locals reactions, wrote reports, and drew maps. An unpaid position at first, it became a formal paid position in June 1916. She became the first and only female political officer in the British forces2. There was no established way to address females. They addressed her as Major Miss. She impressed many, others mocked her.

To win against the Ottomans, the British promised Sharif Hussein arms and advisers. They sent T. E. Lawrence to help conduct a guerrilla war against them, focusing on the railway. Later, David Hogarth credited Gertrude’s intelligence on the region for the success of the Arab Revolt. 

Oriental Secretary

On March 10, 1917, the British forces took Baghdad. Cox called Gertrude back to Baghdad and made her Oriental Secretary.

Despite a secret agreement in 1916 between the British, Italians, and Imperial Russians to divide the land between them, Gertrude argued for the free Arab state promised to Hussein. In April 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, which promised Palestine to the Zionist movement as an autonomous Jewish state. Hussein understood he would receive Palestine while the French thought it promised to them in 1916.

In late 1917, Gertrude stayed in the hospital for exhaustion.

The war ended November 1918. 

They assigned Gertrude to “sort out the Middle East Problem”. She wrote up an official report, “Self Determination in Mesopotamia” which detailed the creation of an independent state, Iraq. British officials didn’t believe the people were capable of self-government.

A New Country 

A black and white photograph of the sphinx in the background with members of the Cairo Conference on Camelback in the foreground. Gertrude Bell sits on a Camel between Churchill and Lawerence.

After the Iraqi Revolt in 1920, Gertrude and T. E. Lawrence suggested Faisal bin Hussein (r. 1921-1933), son of Sharif Hussein, be the King Western-friendly Iraq. The Cairo Conference of 1921 approved of this idea. It became Gertrude’s responsibility to advise Faisal I on how to govern. She encouraged him to preserve the history of Mesopotamia. In 1922 she helped Faisal establish the Baghdad Antiquities Museum (now the Iraq Museum) with artifacts donated from her own private collection. She drew the boundaries of the newly founded country, which also established the boundaries of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Many of her friends left Iraq in the early 1920s, including Percy Cox. Gertrude stayed on as the Oriental Secretary when Henry Dobbs became the new High Commissioner. But Dobbs consulted her less frequently than Cox. She was no longer consulted as much by Faisal, either. This may have left her depressed.

By 1925, she returned to England with severe health problems for a brief stay. 

The war and subsequent coal strikes had exhausted her family’s fortune. They planned to move out of their mansion to reduce costs. About that time, Gertrude returned to Baghdad.

She developed pleurisy soon after.


On July 12, 1926, her maid discovered Gertrude dead of an overdose of allobarbital sleeping pills. It is unknown whether it was an accidental overdose or intentional suicide. She had asked to be awakened in the morning, but she’d also made arrangements for her new dog to be looked after and had written to her mother about how lonely she was. 

A large crowd attended her funeral. King Faisal watched the funeral procession from his balcony. They buried her in the Anglican cemetery in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji district4.


Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE, left an astounding legacy. The boundary lines of Iraq that she drew remain today. Her work documenting archeology in the desert is priceless by many. Scholar, author, translator, and adventurer, Gertrude’s books, military documents, and personal letters remain fascinating. 

Dedicated to her memory, a stain glass window is in St. Lawrence’s Church, East Reunion, North Yorkshire. 

In the 2010s, John Miers, the cartoonist, and a team from Newcastle University released a comic book version of her life.

An exhibit at the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar memorializes her family home. 

Newcastle University’s Gertrude Bell archive was added to UNESCO Memory of the World Program in 2017.

A new genus of wild bees discovered in Saudi Arabia were named Belliturgula najdica to honor her.

Films that include portions of her life include: A Dangerous Man: Lawrence of Arabia (1992), the film, Queen of the Desert (2015), chronicles her life (though not all of it is factual), and the 2016 documentary, Letters from Baghdad

Besides the books Gertrude wrote, her step-mother curated and published the first of two volumes of Gertrude’s correspondence in 1927.

Final Thoughts

The Daughter of the Desert is an address some Arabian people gave Gertrude. She may not have been born there, but she cared enough about the area to spend much of her time and energy there.

This blog post, though long, doesn’t truly do justice to her work and influence. Her mix of interests, her zest for adventure, her willingness to buck the system, made her an amazing woman of history. 

If you liked this post, you may like my other posts about women of history.

Had you heard of Gertrude Bell before? Did you know she was a contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia?


1. “The Controversial Story of Gertrude Bell, the British Desert Queen of Iraq,” Yesterday is History.

2. “The Woman Who Made Iraq,” The Atlantic.

3. World 


Image Credits:

  1. Eight yr old & father : Edward Poynter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons  
  2. Bell & Fattuh outside a tent, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 
  3. The Gates of Ha’il, Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  4. Under the face of the Sphinx and from left to right : Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence Image by GM Georgoulas,  via Wikimedia Commons 

First Lines for Women’s History Month

Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month with first lines from books by or about women of history. First Lines is a series of blog articles posted once a month.

The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?

The cover of Isadora is a woman who appears to be immersed in water up to her nose but looks calm.

None of it turned out as he had imagined. He blamed this on his own distraction, which kept him from looking too closely at the details when his agent found the place.

Isadora by Amelia Grey, a 2017 NPR Great Read

Cover for the book The WOMAN they could not Silence shows a grainy & yellowed photo of an eighteenth century woman standing in front of a large institution on the top 1/4th of the book the rest of the cover is black with white and yellow text spelling out the title and the author.

It was the last day, but she didn’t know it.

In truth, we never do.

Not until it is too late.

She woke in a handsome maple bed, body covered by a snow-white counterpane.

The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

This cover shows a photograph of four military women in bomber jackets and slacks carrying small backpacks and striding toward the camera.

In 1943, Mass Transportation magazine published an article entitled “Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees.” It provided “insights” into the psyche of the working woman of the day…

From the Introduction to:The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: The Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II by Major General Mari K. Eder U.S. Army, Retired

The Lawbreaking Ladies cover is a black background with swirling lines in a goldish tone and in each corner illustrations of formidable looking ladies.

Sayyida al-Hurra was so revered that no one knows her real name. The name by which she is referred to is actually more of a title: al-Hurra means “free woman” and was often given to a woman in power, which she was.

Lawbreaking Ladies: 50 Tales of Daring, Defiant, and Dangerous Women from History by Erika Owen


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The Unsolved Murder of Alberta Odell Jones 

Black and white photograph of Alberta O. Jones smiling, she has her hair up in a knotted braid circling her head, is wearing a necklace, and a light colored v-necked suit.

Alberta Jones, was making her mark in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1960s. She was an African American equal rights trailblazer and the city’s first female and black prosecuting attorney. Then, on August 5, 1965, she was brutally murdered. Her case remains unsolved. 

Early Life

Alberta Odell Jones was born in Louisville, Kentucky, November 12, 1939 to Sarah (Sadie) Frances Crawford and Odell Jones. They lived in the West End of Louisville, a predominantly black community. 

She had a brother, Calvin. Her sister, Lutisha, (“Flora” Shanklin) was five years and nine months her junior. Flora says of her sister, “She was my second mom.”


She attended Central High School. Her sister reported that Alberta and her best friend had plans to become medical doctors. They visited the local hospital together. That’s where Alberta fainted at the sight of blood. She didn’t think anyone who fainted at the sight of blood could be a doctor. So she went to law school. 

She attended the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes. When LMCN merged with the newly integrated University of Louisville in 1951, she became the first African American to attend U of L. She earned her bachelor’s degree, third in her class at U of L. Then she went to Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C. 

In 1958, she graduated fourth out of 70 in her class at Howard University. The following year, she became the first, or one of the first, females of any race to pass the Kentucky bar. 

A lot of people told me ‘You’ve got two strikes against you, you’re a woman and you’re a Negro.’ Yeah, but I’ve got one strike left, and I’ve seen people get home runs when all they’ve got is one strike.” 

Alberta O. Jones (Courier Journal 3/4/64)

Her Career

Alberta opened a law office in downtown Louisville in 1959. A young lawyer, Darryl Owens, shared the office with Alberta. 

She was friendly and outgoing. Alberta was a member of Phillips Chapel CME Church, the Fall City Bar Association, the Louisville Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and Zeta Phi Beta and Iona sororities.. Her law practice was successful.  

Famous Client

In 1960, a young, unknown boxer named Cassius Clay hired her. (You probably know him as Muhammad Ali.) Despite the eleven white male millionaires they were dealing with, she made sure that the contract protected Clay from spending his money unwisely (as many young athletes did), by including a clause that put a percentage of all his proceeds into a trust he could not touch until he was 35. (That contract hangs in the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.)

She Loved Children

Her niece and nephew called her Auntie. When they were little, they waited on the porch for Auntie to come home from her law office. Then, she’d take them door to door collecting money for an annual fundraiser that helps children with special needs. 

Alberta opened a trust fund to collect donations for a seven-year-old boy who tried to save a puppy under a train. The train started moving. He lost both his arms. She filed a $350,000 damage suit for the boy in August 1964. They settled the suit after her death.

A Role in the Civil Rights Movement

Close up image of a dictionary entry "Civil rights" - the definition runs out of the picture.
civil rights word in open book

Alberta was a registered Democrat but voted independent. An advocate for educating African Americans on political participation via their votes, she created the Independent Voter’s Association, which registered 6,000 African American voters.

Depending upon which source you read, she rented (or had a neighbor make cardboard facsimiles) voting machines and held classes in her office on how to use the machines to cast independent and split party votes. In 1961, black voters helped oust the mayor and many of the city’s alderman. That led to a city ordinance that made it illegal to discriminate based on race in any place of business open to the public, a first for any major city in the south. 

She took part in the 1963 civil rights marches in Louisville and in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. 

Career on the Rise

In 1964, she became the first female city attorney in Jefferson County, Kentucky. The following year, they appointed her prosecutor. She was the first female prosecutor of any race in Louisville. As the prosecutor for the Domestic Relations Court, she prosecuted mostly white men for spousal abuse. 

The Night of the Murder

On August 5, 1964, Alberta was at home with her mother and sister. She was reading about the assassination of JFK and quipped, “Hope I don’t get assassinated.” To which her sister replied, “Don’t you worry about it, you’re not the President of the United States.”

Alberta got a phone call between 10 and 11 pm from Gladys Wycoff, a friend. Gladys ran a beauty salon in the neighborhood.

According to the newspaper, in the days following the murder, Gladys said she called to tell Alberta that the wig Alberta had ordered had come in. She said she told Alberta to come and have it styled at her convenience. 

Alberta agreed to visit Gladys that night. Alberta’s mother offered to go with her, but Alberta told her to go to bed. Then, Alberta left to meet Gladys in a rental car. Her Thunderbird was in the shop for repairs. 

She never came home. 

The Next Morning

Alberta’s mother had lain awake all night, listening for her daughter’s return. Around seven am, after she and Flora confirmed Alberta hadn’t come home, they called Gladys. 

Gladys’s daughter answered the phone. She said Gladys had gone downtown on business. 

They called the police and reported Alberta was missing. 

The Sad Discovery

Two boys reported they saw a body floating in the Ohio River near the Old Fountain Ferry Amusement Park at 10:35 a.m. that day. 

The police retrieved the female body. Her shoes were missing, and she had no ID, but otherwise was fully clothed. According to Louisville’s paper, The Courier-Journal, the police said the “two small cuts which were on her face could have been inflicted accidentally.”  

Alberta’s mother called the Louisville Crime Prevention Bureau at 1:30pm and reported her daughter missing. 

Darryl Owens identified her body. 

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. 

The Investigation

Gladys reported Alberta had left her home and salon around 2 a.m. 

The next day, they found Alberta’s rental car on Del Park Terrace, ten blocks southeast of where her body was found. Louisville police found fingerprints, a lot of blood, and pieces of brick in the back of the car. 

On August 8th, they found her shoes near the south exit of the Sherman Minton Bridge on the Shawnee Park Golf Course. Police theorized that she’d been hit in the head with a brick and thrown off the nearby Sherman Minton Bridge. An autopsy confirmed her head injuries, but she had been alive when she was thrown in the river. She drowned. 

Over the course of the investigation, police interviewed hundreds of people. 

Two witnesses said they’d seen two men force a screaming woman into a car that matched the description of the rental Alberta had driven that night. One report said the men were black and that three men were in the car.

At 145 am a convenience store clerk says a woman matching Alberta’s description came in and bought some soft drinks (not just one?), then went out and talked to two men. 

At 215 am a local family heard screams and saw two black men forcing a woman into a car. One man picked up something from the street and got in the car with three other men and drove away.

Not until three months after they found her body, is her death declared a homicide. The police thought Alberta was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Her mother and sister dismissed that because Alberta didn’t wear jewelry, “not even a wristwatch” and she carried very little money.

Seven months later, a grand jury heard the case against two men. But there was not enough evidence for a grand jury to deliver a “True Bill.” 

The case went cold.

Three Years Later

On July 17, 1968, four boys were climbing the substructure of the Sherman Minton bridge and found Alberta Odell Jones’s purse. The substructure extended out about a foot further than the Louisville-bound lanes. The purse was in “exceptionally good shape.” Inside the purse were Alberta’s wallet without money, identification, credit cards, a $200 check she’d made out to herself, a partial dental plate, and several key rings. 

Police theorized that when Alberta had been thrown off the bridge, her purse was tossed in after her. It got caught in the substructure where it stayed. They hoped to get fingerprints off of it. Louisville Homicide Squad Sergeant Herman H. Mitchell Jr. said the police had continued to investigate the murder intermittently during the previous three years. 

Yet, they did not arrest anyone for Alberta’s murder.

Her case went cold.

Nine Years Later

Image of a dusted fingerprint showing whirls of a finger and smudges of black powder on a white background.

Detective Terry Jones, of the Louisville homicide unit’s cold case squad, began working on the case. He asked the FBI to check six fingerprints that were collected from Alberta’s rental car. They found a match.

The prints matched a man who had lived in Louisville but moved to Orange County, California. Detective Terry went out to Orange County in December 2008. He interviewed the man. 

The suspect denied knowing Alberta and denied having anything to do with the murder. But the suspect’s brother said they knew Alberta. 

When the detective told the man about the fingerprint match, the suspect said it was probably because he’d rented the car the previous week. He was 17 at the time of the murder. 

Finally, the suspect failed a polygraph test. However, a polygraph isn’t admissible in court and the police did not have enough evidence for a conviction. They never arrested the man.

Conviction Unlikely

The police turned over their case to Kentucky’s commonwealth attorney, R. David Stengel’s office, as part of a new practice used when the police had exhausted a cold case investigation. Stengel’s office sent a letter to the police in 2010. The letter said that a conviction was unlikely because most of the material witnesses, the original investigating detectives, no blood samples remained for DNA testing, and they could find no evidence in the property room.

Because the evidence was missing, there was no record of where the fingerprints were found. The prospects of finding new information was more and more unlikely. 

Eleven Years Later

During the 1976 investigation, Gladys changed her story. She said she had called Alberta to ask for help with a legal matter, a lawsuit either against another beautician or against the city or state for laws discriminating against her or her salon.

Although the paper reported that Alberta’s sister, Flora, initially said Gladys called about a wig, she now says the call was about a lawsuit Gladys was facing. Alberta said there was nothing she could do. (True: it is against the law for city or state prosecutors to take private clients.) Alberta told Flora Gladys said, “Since you’ve got this position, you’ve gotten so uppity that you don’t have any time for your friends.” 

According to Flora, Alberta “did not want her friends who were less educated than her to think that she was above them.” 

Gladys also said that about 130 am, after “the wig was fitted,” they went to a restaurant on North 4th Street & W River Road. They got sandwiches and lemonade. After they finished eating, they went back to Gladys’s house and talked for a while.

Changing Story

Except, at some point, Gladys changed the story again. They had shrimp, which they ate in the car in the parking lot. While in the parking lot, a car of young black men harassed them. After a while, Alberta was feeling dizzy, so they went back to Gladys’s house. Gladys styled Alberta’s new wig was wearing the wig when she left for home. 

Unanswered Questions

Why did they drive 2.4 miles northeast to the restaurant? Why didn’t they eat at Gladys’s house? Was the restaurant serving sandwiches or shrimp? Or both? 

Then there’s the fact that Alberta had to go to work the next day. Would she really have wanted to have a wig styled after midnight? Would she have stayed if she were dizzy?

When they recovered Alberta’s body, she was not wearing a wig. No wig has ever been found.

Was Gladys lying? Did she know something and was afraid of being hurt? 

Finally, there is no record that Gladys ever sued anyone. 

She has since died, so perhaps we will never know what really happened at her house that night.

A New Investigator

A few years later, Lee Remington, a professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, began a project she’d wanted to pursue ever since a photograph caught her attention during her first year as a law student at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. It was one photograph amid a row of portraits of African American pioneers in Kentucky law, all males except for one. That one was of Alberta Odell Jones. 

Remington’s research led her to believe that Alberta not only deserved justice for her murder, but she deserved recognition for the many ways she was a trailblazer. 

The research led Remington to question the investigation into Alberta’s case. She discovered that not all the witnesses were dead. And at least one detective who had worked the case was alive. He had decided that providing long-term support for his family wasn’t possible as a police officer and had quit the field. She found him. Then she began urging the Louisville police and the federal government to reopen Alberta’s case. 

Case Reopened

In 2017, they reopened her case, funded by the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. 

In 2018, the FBI added Jones to its list of cold cases. 

Her murder remains unsolved.

Who Killed Alberta?

One can only speculate. There are lots of theories and lots of questions about the murder.

Why didn’t the Louisville police solve the crime at the time? Was it a case of racial discrimination by white police officers? Given the time when this murder occurred, it would not be surprise if the police were “slow” to follow up on her case. 


Was it a robbery gone wrong? If it was, why didn’t the robbers keep her purse and dispose of it somewhere else? Why didn’t they take her credit cards? 

Some suggested a serial killer took Alberta’s life. There were five other black women killed in Louisville that year. But serial killers usually work alone and multiple witnesses reported seeing two or more men seen with Alberta on the night of her murder.

Could it have been a political “hit?” The old guard members of the NAACP had ingratiated themselves with the political machinations of the city as best as a Black organization could in the 1960s. They did not appreciate Alberta’s educating the community to vote independently. 

The Ku Klux Klan was very active back then. Could it have been a Klan member?

Was it a racially motivated hate crime? Except all the suspects were black. Still, given the time, one has to wonder.

Perhaps it was an accused in a case she prosecuted. Domestic violence victims and perpetrators are unpredictable for police, social services, and prosecutors. 

It’s been fifty-eight years. Witnesses really are dying or dead. Time is running out. Will we ever find out who killed Alberta Jones?

Her Legacy

Thanks largely to Ms. Remington, we can celebrate Alberta’s life and contributions and her legacy is growing. Alberta’s portrait hangs in the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

She holds a place of honor at her alma mater, Central High School, with a classroom courtroom named the Alberta O. Jones Courtroom. 

There is also a scholarship at Bellarmine University named in Alberta’s Honor. Ajla Hakalovic (b 1991 in Bosnia) won the first scholarship in 2014.

On an October day in 2017, Louisville’s Mayor, Greg Fischer, led the celebration of Alberta Jones’s legacy with a Hometown Heroes banner. They hung the banner on the side of River City Bank at the corner of Sixth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. 

Her photo is also in the county prosecutor’s office. Her portrait also hangs in Bellarmine’s library.

In 2020, the community planned to name a park after her. 

Final Thoughts

Alberta Odell Jones was a woman of courage, determination, and strength. She did a lot of good during her brief life. Had she lived, what else might she have accomplished? 

Had you heard of Alberta Jones before?

Will they ever bring her murderer to justice?

Image Credits:

Top Photo of Alberta Jones: By unknown – Original publication: unknown Immediate source: WHAS11 , Fair use

Second & third images purchased from

Resources (in no particular order):