Mayme Ousley: Missouri's First Woman Mayor
Born Mayme Hanrahan in 1887 near Edgar Springs, Mayme grew up at Rolla and got married there in 1905. She and her husband moved to St. James as newlyweds and made it their home for the rest of their lives. Dr. Ousley joined the town’s semipro baseball team, and Mayme often scolded the team for their appearance. They called her “Granny,” and the name stuck.
When Mayme was first elected mayor of St. James on April 5, 1921, the news was heralded across the state, because it represented the first time a woman in Missouri was elected to the office of mayor. Both Mayme and her opponent ran as nonpartisans, and she won by eight votes. Asked on the day of the election whether she was a Republican or a Democrat, she replied, “I hardly know. I cast my first vote for Harding, but I rather lean to the Democratic principles.”
Asked what she planned to accomplish as mayor, she said she felt somewhat flustered by all the excitement surrounding her election and that she needed some time to consider what she wanted to tackle first. But then she went on to mention obtaining electric lights and a water system for St. James as priorities.
A few days after her election, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter interviewed the new mayor. Described as a “vivacious, slender, blue-eyed blonde of slight stature,” Mrs. Ousley was in St. Louis to confer with the Frisco Travelers’ Association, which planned to hold its convention in St. James later in the year.
Asked why she would want a job that paid only one dollar a month, Mayme replied that at least the people who claimed women only wanted a job so that could buy clothes couldn’t accuse her of seeking the office for personal gain. She admitted that many men in St. James opposed the idea of a woman being mayor. She said the opposition just made her more determined and that, during the campaign, she concentrated especially on turning out the women’s vote.
One of the first things Mayme planned to do as mayor, in addition to trying to bring electric lights to the town, was the to clean up the city hall—literally. The building was filthy she said, and one of the first things to go was going to be the cuspidors. Mayme said she felt women were ever bit as capable as men but that she didn’t plan to run for re-election when her two-year term was up.
She didn’t, but she did run unsuccessfully for state senator in 1926 as a Republican, breaking with her husband’s Democratic bent. She remained active in state Republican politics for the rest of her life, and in later years she was on a first name basis with Missouri governors and with President Harry Truman.
In addition to her civic and political duties, Mayme Ousley was also very active in fraternal organizations and sororities. In 1931, she was elected state president of the Rebekah Assembly, and she was later a grand officer of the Order of the Eastern Star. She remained active in these two organizations throughout her life and was also a member of the Phelps County Historical Society and the Episcopal Church.
In 1939, Mayme once again won the mayoralty of St. James, and she ran successfully for re-election in 1941. Although “Granny” was generally well-liked, her time as mayor was not without incident. During her third term, she filed an injunction against a tavern owner because of disorder and liquor violations, and the owner sued her and the city in early 1943.
Mayme was elected to her fourth and final term as mayor of St. James in 1955. She opened her final term with a “house cleaning,” and when some of the fired city employees refused to quit, she simply quit signing their checks. In 1956, Mayor Ousley participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Boys Town of Missouri near St. James.
Mayme died in 1970 and is buried in the St. James Cemetery. In 2013, St. James honored Mayme Ousley by naming its city hall after her.
Sources: Various newspapers, including Columbia Evening Missourian, Apr. 6, 1921; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 17, 1921; St. Clair Chronicle, Apr. 10, 1941; KC Times, Sept. 23, 1955; Wikipedia.