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Stories of Suffrage, Part 3: Monroe County Women Enter the Race

Blog post by Hilary Fleck

I was fortunate enough through my fellowship from Indiana Humanities to research and rediscover some of the remarkable suffragists from Monroe County. I peered into the lives of Annabelle Miers, Isabella Seward, Agnes Evans, and Lillian Gay Berry and found strong women passionate about equal suffrage. The exhibit Votes for Women at the History Center has shared their lives and suffrage activities with you, but it stops at 1920.

What happened next?

The follow-up exhibit, opening in time for Women’s History Month in March 2021, will feature Monroe County women who have run for and been elected to political office. This blog post will focus on the first four women to have run for office in Monroe County – and not all of them won.  Nevertheless, these women saw their opportunity to serve their community and did what no woman before them had done. I hope you enjoy this sneak peek into the upcoming exhibit, See Her Run: Monroe County Women in Politics, opening in March in the History Center Deckard Education Room.

Maude Luzadder (1873-1948)

Mrs. Luzadder was very involved with the local women’s suffrage movement and joined the Bloomington Franchise League when the organization began in 1913. She so believed that women were able to hold elected office that she ran for office herself as a candidate for County Coroner in 1914. Mrs. Luzadder was the first Monroe County woman we have recorded to run for public office. While the only qualifications to hold the office of County Coroner is you be a citizen and resident of the county for one year, Mrs. Luzadder was married to Dr. John Luzadder. This would have made a quick process for the doctor to pronounce someone dead and then certified by his wife the coroner! Maude unfortunately lost her race to the Republican candidate, but did receive 51 votes.

Lela Smith (1886-1956)

Another enterprising young woman was Miss Lela Smith, a candidate for County Sheriff in 1928. Less than a decade after women gained the right to vote, Lela tossed her hat in the ring to bring reform to the office. Newspaper clips announcing Miss Smith’s candidacy state that she would personally hold the office, indicating that this was perhaps not the case before. She was not free from public mockery for her groundbreaking candidacy. In The Lafayette Journal Courier, the writer adds “If any umbrageous prisoner gets snooty with Sheriff Lela, she’ll paste him one, adorn him with an ogee and put a dado around him.” This is a play on Miss Smith’s occupation as a paper hanger, which today would equate to an interior decorator and specifically wallpaper hanger. An ogee and dado are elements of interior and architectural design. The joke being that if any prisoner causes Lela trouble, she will simply decorate him. Such comments proved effective as unfortunately Lela lost her election.

Journal Courier, Wed March 28, 1928

Alice Parmer (1882- unknown)

The first woman to run for mayor of Bloomington was Mrs. Alice Parmer in the Republican primary of 1934. I could not find much information on Mrs. Parmer (including when she passed away) but the 1930 census and two newspaper articles provide some sort of insight. In the census, Mrs. Parmer was the head of a boarding house with four male boarders. Four years later the two newspaper articles announcing her candidacy for mayor describe her as the proprietor of the Bloomington Massage Salon and a former Federal government employee in the secret service department. It seems that Alice lived an interesting and storied life. Mrs. Parmer’s platform was “the golden rule” which, though not described in the article, is to treat others as you wish to be treated. Alice was up against four male candidates for the nomination and lost her race after receiving just short of 3% of the vote.

Indianapolis Star, April 19 1934

Vanna Thrasher (1900-1980)

To end on a positive note, the first woman elected to political office in Monroe County was Vanna Thrasher, elected Bloomington Clerk-Treasurer in 1934. Miss Thrasher served as clerk-treasurer for thirteen years and saw the election of only two other women to city and county offices during her time. A scandal occurred in 1943 when Vanna was accused of mishandling city funds when repaying a bond to the Barret Law Office for nearly $12,000. The chief deputy attorney general, Frank Coughlin, was quoted by The Indianapolis Star describing Miss Thrasher as an honest individual who had made a bookkeeping error with city funds. Vanna was however vilified in the press. After years of litigation, Vanna settled the claim for $1,500 in 1946 and retired from public service.

Indianapolis Star, Nov 13 1934

Image from collection

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