I’m defending Starcher’s Idaho bona fides because her claim to fame was something she did while she and her husband lived in Umatilla, Oregon. You’re welcome to quibble with me about whether this is Idaho history, but I remain the guy who writes this blog.
Laura Stockton Starcher was the leading figure of what newspapers across the country in 1916 called the Petticoat Revolution. At a card party several days before the municipal election, hostess Mrs. Robert Merrick convinced six of her friends, all women, that they should run for city council. Starcher would run for mayor. This came as a surprise to E.E. Starcher who was the incumbent mayor and Laura Starcher’s husband.
The surprise was part of the fun for the women. They were mostly mum about their plan, telling no man about it. All ran as write-ins, counting on the support of the women of Umatilla, who had gained the right to vote four years earlier.
At noon on election day the women won the majority of the seats on the city council. Starcher—the distaff Starcher—won the mayor’s seat by a vote of 28-6. The men had a good laugh over it and stepped back to let the women run the town.
It was a joke that was not a joke. The women recognized the humor in their plot, but they were also serious about bettering the town.
Madam Mayor Starcher, quoted in an interview in the Idaho Statesman, said, “Well, my husband’s administration claimed that the reason it accomplished so little for the city was that it was impossible to get the entire council, or even a quorum, out. Now, I intend to get my council out in this way. We will all be women except the two holdovers, men, who, I understand, are going to learn to do fancy work, in order to feel at home with us, and I shall turn the city council meetings into afternoon teas if necessary, in order to be sure of the full council being present.”
Starcher had a unique plan for ridding Umatilla of gambling, “the only grave violation of the law we know of.” She would appoint women, one a week, as detectives. No one would know who that week’s detective was. They would be unpaid, because “accomplishing results will be sufficient reward for the women.”
Now, dear reader if you are a woman, prepare to grit your teeth. The Statesman article noted that she was a “stylish little mayor, too… She is small and dainty, exceedingly vivacious and good looking. She wore, while in Boise, the most up-to-date of trotteur suits of Burgundy red, which suited her brunette type, and her stunning velvet hat and fox furs added to her chic appearance.”
We can’t judge editorial decisions made in 1916 through a 2021 lens. This was at a time when women were barely a blip on the political radar, so Mayor Starcher was treated as something of a unicorn. She was, after all, the first woman mayor in the United States.