by Mary Hopper.
Charlotte Women’s March congratulates Vi Lyles on her mayoral election and sincerely thanks outgoing mayor Jennifer Roberts for her service.
With Lyles’ election, she becomes Charlotte’s first female African American mayor.
CWM takes a look back at some other “firsts” for women elected to City Council.
As a college student in the ‘70’s, Lyles was one of a group of young women to integrate Queens College (now Queens University). She previously served as the city’s budget director and as an assistant city manager, making her one of Charlotte’s most knowledgeable in-coming council members. On December 4, she will become the 4th woman to be the city’s mayor.
Other Recent Firsts
The honor of being Charlotte’s first woman elected mayor belongs to Sue Myrick (1987-1991); her later election to Congress marked another milestone for Charlotte women. City Council Rep Patsy Kinsey was appointed to the mayoral post when President Obama nominated Anthony Foxx as the US Secretary of Transportation in 2013. Jennifer Roberts was the second woman to be elected mayor and the 3rd to serve.
Not long after women got the vote in 1920, Julia Alexander ran for mayor. A trailblazer, Alexander was the second woman licensed to practice law in North Carolina and the first woman in the state to open her own law firm. In 1925, she became the first local woman elected to the NC House. She was followed by Carrie McLean in 1927.
First on Council
The fact that no women took on the race for City Council for many years speaks to the daunting task of getting women elected. Martha Evans was the first woman elected to Council in 1955, tried twice to become mayor, then went on to be the first woman to serve in both the NC House and Senate. Years later she noted with some bitterness how little help she got from other women. How times have changed.
While the formation of the Charlotte Women’s Political Caucus in 1972 accelerated the election of women, the Caucus also flexed its muscle by getting Ruth Easterling appointed to a Council seat being vacated by a man. When Easterling did not file to run in 1973, Pat Locke Williamson ran and won. Betty Chafin Rash joined her on Council in 1975. The subsequent shift to a mix of at-large and district seats on Council further facilitated the election of women and minorities.
Before the September primary this year, a Charlotte Women’s March article noted Council at that time had a female majority, a feat only achieved once before, in 1985 with Council Reps Cyndee Patterson, Velva Woolen, Pam Patterson, Gloria Fenning, Minette Trosch and Ann Hammond. With the 2017 election, the balance now tips the other way, with only three women on council (Eiselt, Ajmera and Mayfield) and the mayor.
Mayors Pro Tem
Also noteworthy is the fact that women often are the top vote getters, allowing them to serve as mayors pro tem. Betty Chafin Rash was the first so honored but Minette Trosch, Cyndee Patterson, Lynn Wheeler, Susan Burgess and Vi Lyles have all held that post. It is assumed Julie Eiselt will take that role in December.
Additional Notable Firsts
A few other “firsts” bear noting for council’s women. Ella Scarborough, who now chairs the board of County Commissioners, was the first African American woman elected to Council, Dimple Ajmera, the first Asian American woman and LaWana Mayfield, the first openly gay member.
Women Who Marched Before Us will offer a look at significant contributions generations of woman have made to our community – our own attempt to uncover our “Hidden Figures.” We hope you will celebrate with CWM these women’s achievements.
Mary Hopper is a retired civic outreach consultant, former Executive Director of University City Partners, and (self-proclaimed) aging, cranky activist.