Annie Rheem Hannon (first woman elected to public office)

The first woman to hold an elective office in Sangamon County was Annie Rheem Hannon (1857-1945), who served from 1892 to 1894 as county superintendent of schools – a position for which neither she, nor any other woman, could cast a vote.

Women were given “school suffrage” rights by the Illinois legislature in 1891, meaning they could cast ballots for local school board candidates even though the Illinois constitution at the time restricted voting rights only to men. School suffrage supporters argued successfully that, since local school boards were not mentioned in the constitution, the legislature had the authority to decide who voted in those elections.

However, the office of county school superintendent was mentioned – Article 8, Section 5 – in the 1870 constitution, so the state Supreme Court said women could not cast ballots for that office. That decision remained in effect until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting denial of the right to vote based on gender, was ratified in 1920.

Perversely enough, though, women had been entitled to serve as county superintendents, even though they couldn’t vote in those elections, since 1873.

Annie Hannon’s father, Noel B. Hannon, was elected Sangamon County school superintendent in 1890, but he died unexpectedly in February 1892. Annie Hannon had been acting as her father’s assistant, and, five days after Noel Hannon’s death, the county board of supervisors unanimously appointed her to take his place.

Annie Hannon then sought the Democratic Party’s nomination to finish the remaining two years of her father’s term in office. She defeated a male opponent in the party caucuses in April, by a single vote, and went on to rather handily beat Republican Lewis Grubb – Hannon received 7,751 votes, all from men, to Grubb’s 5,685 – in November.

When Hannon sought a full term in office in 1894, the Illinois State Register noted that she was “not a stranger to our readers.”

She has already for about two years filled the office in a very acceptable manner. While it was an innovation in this county to elect a lady to office, Miss Hannon has proven by her ability and success that the old custom of electing men only is a rule which may be honored in the breach as much, at least, as in the observance. …

Since her election, in 1892, to fill her father’s unexpired term, she has visited the schools throughout the entire county, and has performed her work with great success. … She has by her energy and untiring toil surprised even her most sanguine friends.

In another tight caucus race, however, Annie Rheem Hannon lost the Democratic Party’s 1894 nomination to W.B. Robertson of New Berlin.

She served out her term and apparently retired from both politics and education to live with her mother and help found the Shakespeare Club, a literary society for women.

When she died in 1945, Annie Rheem Hannon was still the only woman to have won a countywide election in Sangamon County; it would be 11 more years before she lost that distinction.

Note: Although Annie Hannon was the first woman to win an election in Sangamon County, she was not the first to seek elective office. That distinction belongs to Mary Howard Miles (1850-1913), who was slated for school superintendent by the “Farmers, Mechanics and Workingmen’s Anti-Monopoly Association” in 1873.

Miles – who was still Mary Howard when she sought office – was from Pleasant Plains, but taught at Springfield High School. Neither Springfield newspaper reported vote totals in the race, but the winner was Democrat Patrick Rourke, who defeated Howard and Illiopolis school principal W.E. Purcell, the Republican.

The Anti-Monopoly ticket was viewed in some quarters as a Republican Party attempt to split local Democrats, and that seems to have been at least partly accurate. For instance, the Illinois State Journal, the Republican newspaper, listed candidates for the Anti-Monopoly Part in its pre-election coverage along with Republican candidates. It did not publish the Democratic slate.

More information: See Women’s vote history, Sangamon County.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.


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