Annie White Baxter (1864 – 1944)
Annie White Baxter was the first woman elected to public office in the state of Missouri. This happened in 1890, thirty years before women could vote in public elections.
Annie White was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 2, 1864. Her father was John B. White. He worked as a cabinetmaker. Her mother was Jennie Black White. When Annie was two, her family moved to Newark, Ohio. Annie lived in Ohio until she was twelve. Then Annie and her family moved once again, this time farther west to Carthage, Missouri.
Carthage was the county seat of Jasper County in southwest Missouri. It became an agricultural and social hub in the years leading up to the Civil War. But Carthage’s prosperity came to a halt with the Battle of Carthage fought on July 5, 1861. This battle was one of the earliest engagements in the Civil War and was won by the Confederates who were led by Governor Claiborne Jackson. Like many other cities, Carthage was heavily damaged during the Civil War. Rebuilding began in 1865. It took about ten years for Carthage to once again be a center of trade and industry in Missouri.
Because of this economic growth, Annie and her family moved from Ohio to Carthage in 1876. Annie’s father opened a furniture factory. Later, during the 1880s, Carthage became even more productive and prosperous. Limestone, lead, and zinc were quarried and mined from the land surrounding the city. Mining activity made Carthage a busy center for manufacturers, merchants, and government workers.
Work and Marriage
Annie White attended Carthage High School and graduated in 1882 at the age of 18. She was one of six graduates. After graduation, unlike most women of the period, Annie took a job as a clerk in the Jasper County government offices. She worked in the busy offices of County Clerk, County Recorder, and County Collector from 1882 to 1890. As a clerk, Annie was responsible for keeping detailed public records about property, elections, licenses, and taxes. She gained valuable experience and first-hand knowledge of how the county government operated. She did this at a time when most women did not hold jobs outside the home.
On January 19, 1888, Annie married Charles W. Baxter, an employee of R. H. Rose Department store in Carthage. Annie White Baxter took a short break from working, but returned as deputy county clerk under County Clerk Jesse Rhoads. Then, in 1890, Annie’s life changed. Many people suddenly took notice of this hardworking woman in southwestern Missouri. County Clerk Rhoads ended his term in office and at the Democratic County Convention, an all-male committee nominated Annie to run for the office of Jasper County clerk. Annie accepted the Democratic nomination and ran for office.
First Missouri Female Elected to Office
The local newspapers debated whether Annie could legally be elected because she was a woman. After all, women could not vote in public elections. Annie won the election by more than four hundred votes. She became the first female county clerk in the United States and the first elected woman official in Missouri.
Annie started her new job as Jasper County clerk in January 1891. Meanwhile, her opponent, Julius Fischer, challenged her election in court. Fischer claimed that Annie’s votes were not legal because she was a woman. A few months later, the Greene County Circuit Court upheld her election. The judge ruled that Annie had won the election and Fischer should pay her legal fees.
While in office, Annie White Baxter helped the county make plans to construct a new courthouse. The old Jasper County Courthouse, a two-story brick structure that had been completed in 1851, had been destroyed during the Civil War. The county government had been using business buildings, a church, and a school since that time. Missouri Governor David R. Francis thought that Annie was the best county clerk in the state. He named her an honorary colonel on his staff. She became known as “Colonel Baxter.”
Annie was nominated for a second term in 1894, but all of the elected positions went to Republicans that year. Annie and her husband left Carthage and moved to St. Louis and then to Jefferson City.
Dedicated Civil Servant
Annie White Baxter lived and worked mostly in Jefferson City from 1908 to 1944. She served as Land Registrar under Secretary of State Cornelius Roach from 1908 to 1916. While in this job, Annie reorganized the staff and showed workers how to keep records more efficiently. She was then made financial secretary for the Missouri Constitutional Commission in 1922. Afterwards, Annie worked as the personal secretary to James T. Quarles, Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In May of 1936, Annie traveled to Jasper County to serve as a delegate to the Democratic State Convention in Joplin.
Final Days and Lasting Impact
Annie White Baxter died on June 28, 1944, in Jefferson City, Missouri. A street in Joplin, Missouri, is named after her. A marker at the northeast corner of the Jasper County Courthouse recalls her role in the construction of the building. Annie’s accomplishments, especially at a time when women had little political power and no voting rights, inspired other Missouri women to strive for political and economic equality and demand the right to vote.
Research and text by Carlynn Trout
Christensen, Lawrence O., et al, eds., Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999, p. 43.
Dains, Mary K., ed. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. 2 volumes. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989, 1993. Volume 1: 179.