In a fascinating article in Diggin’s, the quarterly of the Butte County Historical Society, Nancy Brower tells the story of three pioneering women in local politics: Minnie Abrams, Mattie Lund, and Florence Danforth Boyle. She writes:
Most people are startled to hear that Minnie Abrams was elected Butte County Superintendent of Schools in November 1906, five years before the historic California suffrage election.
Who knew that women could serve in public office before they could even vote for themselves? And yet they could, and they did.
Minnie Sharkey Abrams was born in 1863 to William and Amanda Sharkey. In 1886, as a twenty-three years old school teacher, she made her first attempt to be elected county Superintendent of Schools. The editor of the Oroville Mercury commended her for her “brains, natural ability, pluck and energy.” She lost that race, but it did not deter her from trying again.
In 1906, Minnie, now a married woman with four children, was still just as dedicated to the education of young people. Once again she ran for county superintendent and this time she won by a wide margin. She served with great force and devotion until her unfortunate death at the age of 50 in 1914.
It won’t be any surprise to learn that she was committed to the cause of woman’s suffrage. When women gained the right to vote in California in 1911, Minnie Abrams was the first to register to vote in Butte County. She wasted no time in going to the county clerk and putting her name on the register.
Although I was surprised to learn of Minnie Abrams’ election and career, she was not the only woman elected to office in California before 1911. Several women served in public office, the most common one being county Superintendent of Schools. The first woman to run for office was Laura DeForce Gordon, who ran for the State Senate in 1871 on the third party Independent ticket. She did not win.
Donna M. Coleman was elected Shasta County Superintendent of Schools in 1875, the earliest California woman elected that I could find. For more on historic women in politics, the online place to search is Her Hat Was in the Ring, a site dedicated to U.S. women who ran for political office before 1920.