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First Woman Mayor of a Major U.S. City

Estelle Lawton Lindsey, 1915

Estelle Lawton Lindsey. Photo from Los Angeles Herald, September 10, 1915, edition.

On September 10, 1915, Los Angeles City Councilmember Estelle Lawton Lindsey was appointed to act as Mayor of Los Angeles on behalf of Mayor Charles Sebastian when he and Council President Martin Betkouski left town for San Francisco for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

This made Lindsey the first woman to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city, even if it was for only 36 hours. Her brief term as mayor received national attention in the press. The Washington Post reported that “Los Angeles has qualified as the first city of the first class in the United States to boast a woman mayor.”

The Los Angeles Times wrote that, upon entering office as acting mayor, Lindsey was “greeted with a salute of seventeen flashlight guns . . . and began the day's work. Later in the day, a battery of rapid-fire movie cameras was also turned on her. Through it all, Mrs. Lindsey carried the weight of office with smiling dignity, receiving scores of callers whose business ranged from bearing greetings of the Governor of Pennsylvania to seeking the loan of a quarter.” – Los Angeles Times, "It's Mrs. Mayor for One Day," Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1915.

Just three months earlier, Lindsey also made history by taking a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, as the first woman elected to the Los Angeles City Council. She was also only the second woman elected to the city council of a major U.S. city (Luella Johnston was elected to the Sacramento City Council in 1912). In 1912 and 1914, Lindsey had run for a seat in the California State Assembly, but lost both times. It should be noted that women had only been able to vote in California since 1911.

Lindsey was a member of the Socialist Party in Los Angeles, but ran for city council as an independent. The Socialists removed her from their ticket because she accepted support from outside the party.

Prior to her election to the city council, Lindsey worked as a newspaper writer and journalist for the Los Angeles Record. She had already been writing for the newspaper even before she and her husband arrived in Los Angeles in 1908. She grew up in a genteel South Carolina family, but seemed intent on pursuing an occupational and political path not typical for women in her family’s social circles.

After her very brief term as mayor, Lindsey continued to serve on the Los Angeles City Council until 1917. That year, she lost her bid for re-election. She returned to newspaper writing and continued to advocate for women.

Lindsey and her husband, Dudley Lindsey, continued to live in Echo Park until her death in 1955.