Last fall I explored the history of women in Minnesota politics. One of the interesting angles was that West St. Paul had never had a female mayor—until now. In 2016 West St. Paul elected its first female mayor in Jenny Halverson.
It made me curious about the history of women in other roles in West St. Paul’s history, so I did a little digging.
Female Firsts in West St. Paul:
- 1955: Police Officer, Dorothea Binder
- 1963: City Clerk, Benedicta Southwick
- 1967: City Council, Devona Weatherhead
- 1996: City Manager, Dianne R. Krogh
- 1996: Fire Fighter, Linda McMillan
- 2005: City Attorney, Korine Land
- 2008: Finance Director, Sandy Christensen
- 2017: Mayor, Jenny Halverson
I also found an interesting story about the first woman to serve on the city council in West St. Paul, Devona Weatherhead. She served from 1967-1968 and worked to support voter education.
“I actually became interested in better streets for West St. Paul and in other city projects. At this time I was on the Planning Commission and happened to stop in the store one day for a loaf of bread. Several people stopped me to ask if I had filed to run for Council. I had not and it was the last day, but before going home, I went to City Hall and put in my application.” (West St. Paul Centennial: 1889-1989)
Weatherhead had been encouraged to run by former Mayor Robert J. Callahan and worked as the chairperson for the county Republican party in the mid-1960s.
What’s less encouraging is that in lists of city council members, Weatherhead is listed as “Mrs. Devona Weatherhead.” None of the men are listed as “Mr.”
Also unfortunate is that since then West St. Paul still hasn’t had many women serving on the city council. Only five women have served on the city council in our entire history:
- Devona Weatherhead, 1967-1968 (ward 1)
- Sandra Shirley, 1991-1994 (ward 1)
- Vivian Hart, 1999-2002 (ward 1)
- Darlene Lewis, 2005-2012 (ward 3)
- Jenny Halverson, 2013-2016 (ward 2)
So far Halverson and Lewis are the first and only women to represent wards 2 and 3 respectively.
To put that in context, 157 men have served on city council and only five women. So in West St. Paul’s 128-year history, only 3% of our city council members have been women. To give even more context, 9% of our city council members have been named “John.”
Currently the council is all men.
I think it’s past time for that to change. Three city council seats will be open in 2018. I’m hoping to see some local women stepping up to run.
(I found many of these details by combing through local history books, specifically West St. Paul Centennial 1889-1989 and talking with West St. Paul citizens and city staff, who graciously provided help. Any errors are my own. Even with the Internet it’s pretty hard to search and confirm many of these firsts. Please speak up in the comments if I’ve made any errors or you know of any other noteworthy female firsts for West St. Paul.)