Phelps County, Missouri, also has a “first.” It is home to Mayme Hanrahan Ousley who, in 1921, became “the first woman mayor in Missouri.”

As I’ve said in a previous column, nothing says history quite like “the first.” We have “the first President of the United States,” “the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court,” and “the first man on the moon.” 

Phelps County, Missouri, also has a “first.” It is home to Mayme Hanrahan Ousley who, in 1921, became “the first woman mayor in Missouri.”

Mayme Hanrahan was born on January 2, 1887, in Edgar Springs, Missouri, but she grew up in Rolla, the county seat of Phelps County. In 1905, Hanrahan and Edward William Ousley were joined in Holy Matrimony. Following Ousley’s graduation from dental school in 1906, the couple moved to St. James, which was also in Phelps County. Dr. Ousley opened his dental practice in St. James, and there the couple spent the rest of their lives.

Many local civic organizations were graced with their presence. Dr. Ousley played with the town’s semi-professional baseball team and Mayme joined them on the road. Always scolding them about their appearance, they started called her “Granny” Ousley, a nickname she never got rid of. The couple was also involved with the Republican Party. 

It should be mentioned here that the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920. 

The following year, in 1921, Mayme was asked to run for mayor. She agreed to run when, unable to get a satisfactory answer on a matter of importance to her, she decided the only way of finding out the things she wanted to know was to become mayor.

For six weeks, Mayme went door to door asking women for their vote; in return, she promised to clean up both the city and city hall. The turnout was so large on election day that the city ran out of ballots and had to print more. Mayme won by eight votes.

J.J. Forester had been running for re-election. He was so mad at losing to a woman he did not attend the May 2 council meeting to administer the oath of office.

Mayme spent the next few weeks keeping her campaign promises. She threw out the cuspidors, painted city hall inside and out, and divided the inside into a jail, council chambers, and an office for herself. Outside, she cleaned the streets and sidewalks. And this was just the beginning.

Her status as first woman mayor made her an in-demand speaker and she addressed organizations all over the state. Unfortunately, she was unable to move up the political ladder. She ran for the Missouri House in 1924 and the Missouri Senate in 1926 but lost both times. She lost a second term as mayor in 1927 and again in 1930. She won in 1939 and 1941, lost in 1943 and 1947, but won a fourth term in 1955. 

Mayme Ousley died in 1970 and is buried with her husband in St. James, Missouri.  The St. James City Hall was renamed in her honor in 2013.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to