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Bloomington Women City Clerks 1935-2021

Blog post by Glenda Murray

Come see the exhibit, “See Her Run,” about women who have been elected to public office in Bloomington and Monroe County. This article focuses on one office over time–the office of city clerk-treasurer which became the office of the city clerk in the 1960s. Since 1935, the person who has held that office has been a woman for all but a few years.

Bloomington Evening World, October 31, 1942

Vanna Thrasher, a Republican, was the first women elected to public office in the city or the county. She served as clerk-treasurer in Bloomington from January 1, 1935-December 1947. The Daily Telephone in 1934 noted that “Miss Vanna Thrasher (was) the first woman to be successful in a political race in this community….” They also noted that she had been “for many years connected with the city administration.”1 In fact, she led the Republican ticket, winning by nearly 1000 votes over her Democratic opponent. She served with two Republican mayors during the Depression and World War II. In 1938 her Democratic opponent was Lydia Lake.

They were the only two women on the ballot, and Thrasher won. Thrasher won re-election again in 1942.

Thrasher was defeated by Democrat Orville Zell in the Tom Lemon election of November 1947. Zell did not finish his term. M. Helen O’Donnell Nave served from 1948-49, Carl Stewart from 1949-51, and Helen Zell, Orville’s wife, served in 1951.2

In the 1951 city elections, both candidates for Clerk-Treasurer were women. Esther Leavitt, the Republican, beat Fred Jones in the Republican primary and then beat the incumbent Democrat Helen Zell in the general election as a part of the Republican sweep, which was led by Emmett Kelley as mayoral candidate.

Mary Alice Dunlap

Leavitt lost in the 1955 election to Mary Alice Dunlap, a Democrat. Dunlap began her work for the city in 1945 as a clerk in the water department and then managed the water department from 1948-52.  Dunlap became clerk-treasurer in 1956, when Tom Lemon started his second (non-consecutive) term as mayor. She was president of the Indiana Clerk/Treasurer’s League from 1959-62. She was selected to complete Lemon’s term as mayor in 1962-63 (about 18 months), when he resigned. Dunlap was the first woman to be mayor of Bloomington and the second woman to serve as mayor of a city in Indiana. In 1963 Mildred Shafer Moss ran in the Democratic primary against Jack Board. He won. Margaret Torphy was defeated by Howard Young in the Republican primary. Young beat Board in the general election. The 1963 election was the last time that two men were the candidates for clerk/treasurer or city clerk in the general election. Before the 1967 election Bloomington became a second-class city, with a city clerk instead of a clerk/treasurer.3

Marian H. Tardy, a Republican, served out Board’s term, becoming City Clerk on June 1, 1966. She had served four years as deputy county recorder and years as a legal secretary. In the 1967 election Tardy beat Catherine Stephens, a Democrat. Stephens had worked at Montgomery Ward, the Bloomington Water Department and was assistant manager at the License Branch when she ran for clerk.4

Grace Johnson

In 1971 Tardy ran for reelection. She suggested that a fulltime City Court was needed, as well as more storage, office space, and conference rooms. She suggested that a city-county building would be very helpful.5 Tardy was defeated by Grace Johnson, the Democratic candidate, who suggested better cooperation between the city and the county. She suggested the office needed to have better records of the work of the Common Council. The Herald Telephone touted Johnson’s experience, saying that she “had extensive secretarial experience in the IU Departments of Political Science and Radio and Television, and was for four years secretary to Dr. John Kenneth Galbraith, presidential economics advisor during the Kennedy Administration, while her husband was earning his doctorate at Harvard University.”6 In 1971 Francis X. McCloskey and the Democrats won most city offices, losing only one city council seat. Johnson left after two years and was replaced by Democrat Karel Dolnick.

Dolnick won election in 1975 against Republican Mona Peters. For part of that time, Dolnick’s assistant was Nora Connors. Some of the old city records were still in the police building at Fourth and Walnut. Dolnick and the city council ended up in a disagreement about who had the power to move records and the process to be used. Dolnick ran for mayor in the 1979 primary against McCloskey and lost.

In 1979 Democrat Nora Connors ran for city clerk, beating Republican Mary Yost.

Pat Williams served from 1982-99. She completed Connors’ term and was elected four times in her own right. None of her opponents were men. Williams also served as Democratic county chair for 14 years and served 12 years on Plan Commission.

Democrat Regina Moore served as the clerk from 2000-2015. Moore had no opponent in the 1999 general election, ran against Republican Matthew Stevenson in 2003, and ran unopposed in 2007 and 2011.7

Democrat Nicole Bolden was the first Black woman to hold elected citywide office, taking office in January 2016. She noted that she is the only LGBTQ+ woman of color to hold elected office in the state of Indiana. She ran unopposed in 2015 and 2019.

As this brief review shows, since 1935 the City Clerk’s position has been held by women from both political parties except for a short period in the late 1940s and another in the mid-1960s. According to research summarized by a city clerk intern in the early 2010s, 23 men held the office for 66 years and 12 women have held the office for 72 years. Of the women, Vanna Thrasher held office 12 years, Regina Moore served for 15 years, and Pat Williams served for 17 years.8

  1. The Daily Telephone, November 7, 1934, p.
  2. Listing of City Clerks from the City Clerk’s Office. The World Telephone, Nov. 5, 1947, p 1, shows election results. The Herald Times, Feb 2, 1997, p 2, obituary of Margaret Helen Carpenter O’Donnell Nave. The Daily Herald Telephone, May 16, 1964, obituary of Carl O. Stewart, p. 2. The Herald Telephone, May 22, 1985, obituary for Helen Zell.
  3. Bloomington Tribune, September 11, 1966.
  4. Herald Telephone, October 31, 1967.
  5. Herald Telephone, October 28, 1971.
  6. Herald Telephone, November 3, 1971, p. 21.
  7. Candidates listed on county election records, indexed by Lee Ehman. Available at the Monroe County History Center, https://monroehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Elections-Chronological-Sort.pdf
  8. List of City Clerks from 1860 to the present, from Nicole Bolden, City Clerk, to Glenda Murray, April 5, 2021. The list was prepared by an intern when Regina Moore was clerk.
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