ALEXANDRIA — About this time last year, Penny Stevens was meeting with residents and city workers as she campaigned to become mayor of Alexandria.
Had she won, Stevens, who had served for years on the Alexandria school board, would have become the first female mayor in Madison County. Instead, she lost to political newcomer Todd Naselroad.
“I think the idea of a woman mayor is still foreign to some people,” Stevens said. “Indiana’s still a little behind. But I will say I’m hopeful. I received a lot of support from both parties.”
Mere months after winning the right to vote in 1920, Hoosier women began running for elected office.
A century after that victory, women still trail men in political influence. Like Madison County, many Indiana communities still haven’t had a woman elected to various offices, including mayor, auditor and clerk.
Indianapolis, the state capital, has yet to have a female mayor, and the state has yet to have its first female governor.
Stevens said she believes it will be at least another generation before men are comfortable voting for women.
“I would like to say it’s white men, but I don’t even think that’s true. I think it’s an older generation in general, especially in rural areas,” she said. “I was shocked at the number of people who said there are some old folks that think a woman should not be (mayor). I was flabbergasted.”
Amanda Stevenson-Holmes, who will host an event at the historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, ran for Johnson County Council because the current makeup of that elected body is seven white men.
“They all looked the same. Three of them literally had the same initials,” she said. “Women comprise the majority of the population, yet we remain underrepresented in American government.”
Among the barriers to women running for office, Stevenson-Holmes said, is simply not having a checklist or guide to follow, a problem she hopes to correct.
“In business, we have been working for years because we know the value of diversity,” she said. “The more diversity of thought, the more people at the table, the better outcomes for the business and the community as a whole. That same train of thought needs to apply to government.”
Anikka King, president of the League of Women Voters in Anderson and a member of the Madison County Suffrage Centennial group, which postponed a celebration because of the pandemic, noted that the Equal Rights Amendment has not yet passed.
“We really wanted to advocate for the ERA and reposition women in our communities,” she said.
Even so, King said, she’s grateful to the suffragists who enabled her voice to be heard in November’s general election.