Fascinating Utah history factoid: Kanab,Utah, claims the first all-woman city council in the United States. The five women were elected on November 7, 1911, to serve during the 1912-1914 term, and one of them was elected to serve as chair of the council, a position that doubled as mayor. My inner feminist cheers, but my inner scholar laughs. Because what I find more fascinating than the election itself is that everyone is so darn proud of the women . . . now. Well, arenâ€™t we forward-thinkers? We elected the first all-woman city council! â€œWeâ€ (Utahans, Mormons, whoever–fill in the blank) congratulate ourselves and claim the Kanab womenâ€™s victory.
No doubt we all wish history could re-write itself and overlook a few small detailsâ€”such as the fact that none of the women ran for election; that some â€œloafingâ€ men at the post office arranged it and meant for the election to be a joke (and not a funny-ha-ha joke but a mean-in-your-face joke); that the women found it near to impossible to accomplish things because they couldnâ€™t convince any local males to be the â€œmarshallâ€ and enforce their laws; and that we here in Utah have alternatively mocked, overlooked, ignored, grudgingly approved, and heralded this election, depending on the time period, the cultural feelings toward women, and current national politics.
The election and the way it has been remembered makes me wonder how much I, too, am merely a product of my philosophical and theological environment. Am I sensitive to gender issues because of some egalitarian make-up in my soul . . . or because I went to college in the 1990s, and that was what I was taught?
If I were the daughter of one of Kanabâ€™s councilwomen (three of the five had babies born during the two year term) and had been raised in the first half of the twentieth century, would I have listed my momâ€™s term on Kanabâ€™s town council in her 1950â€™s obituary? Or simply ignored that aspect of her life and acclaimed her mothering and church skills? It was the 50â€™s, after all.
If I had been born and raised during the 1950â€™s would I have intrinsically agreed with a 1968 article in the Salt Lake Tribune which sarcastically argued that â€œTV heroesâ€ of westerns may have problems, but nothing like the â€œrealâ€ problem of â€œa frontier western cowtown run entirely by women,â€ and then wind it all up with the unsubstantiated claim that â€œthere is no known town record saying just WHY the gals ran, or why the rugged Mormon husbands let them.â€
Obviously itâ€™s impossible to know, but I canâ€™t help wondering if I have a clue how to think outside the box . . . or if â€œthinking outside the boxâ€ is a cultural ideal that has faults of its own . . . or if I am so enveloped by my box that I really canâ€™t understand what it would be like to be out of the box anyway. Just some thoughts for your Monday morning.