LIMA — One hundred years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote. Now, local women hold some of the highest seats in the county.
Across Allen County, eight seats in city councils are held by women in Lima, Beaverdam, Elida, Lafayette and Spencerville. That increases to nine in Auglaize County and 22 in Putnam County trickling down to the village level. For March’s primary election, 15 women will be on ballots across each of those counties.
Peggy Ehora was elected to Lima City Council representing the Fourth Ward and began her term in January. She joins Carla Ann Thompson, of the Third Ward, on council. She was inspired by the changing landscape of women in politics to get involved.
“I feel like if I were alive back in 1919, I would’ve been part of that movement 100 years ago, I would have been a suffragist. Based on how I am today, I know I would have,” she said. “I think all of us have some sort of moral obligation to continue that fight.”
Alberta Lee was one of those leading the way in Allen County, becoming the first woman elected as an Allen County commissioner in 1990. Since then, no other women have been elected to a county commissioner’s seat.
“Alberta has been one of those to inspire all of us,” Ehora said. “She paved the way for the elected females in the community, but there hasn’t been a female commissioner since her. I love the fact that females are throwing their hats in the ring. All women are looking for is that opportunity in places that they haven’t been.”
Beth Seibert, for whom Lee is a campaign chair and advisor, and Judy Augsburger are two of the five Republican candidates for one of the Allen County commissioner seats on the March 17 primary ballot.
Lee made it clear that only the most qualified person for the job should ever be elected.
“Just because you’re a lady, you’re not going to particularly get in. You’ve got to have some type of background,” she explained. “I think women have proven that if you have the knowledge, you can do the job and get elected. Then once you get elected, you have to keep doing a good job to get re-elected.
“Our community is very open to qualified candidates,” Lee added. “They check out if they can or cannot do the job, and needless to say, some candidates — men or women — can get their story across and the women have done a really good job lately getting their story across.”
A unique perspective
Augsburger was the first female mayor of Bluffton from 2014 until her resignation in 2017.
“I was looking back over an article written a long time ago that said I was only the second woman to hold a seat on Bluffton council, and that surprised me,” she said. “I never thought of myself as a female running for council, I saw myself as a resident running for council. I didn’t think about the fact that it was a unique thing for me to do.”
Now with her efforts in returning to local government, Augsburger is focusing much of her campaign on relationships with the public.
“I think women bring something to the plate, and that’s the everyday concerns of people,” she said. “One of the things in my speeches for commissioner is emphasizing that I want to talk to people and really listen to what they have to say. What we do as commissioners affect their daily life, and it’s so important. We can push issues through and pass this or do that, but it affects people’s lives, and I want to know how.
“As a tax preparer, I work with small businesses and farmers. I sit and talk with them, I know their concerns and what keeps them up at night. I think it’s important to have that one-on-one conversation with people.”
State Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield, is the state representative for the 84th District, including Auglaize, Darke, Mercer and Shelby counties. The Waynesfield native interned in Washington D.C. for U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, where she worked for five years following her graduation from The Ohio State University.
“There were often times in Washington and even now where I’m the only woman in a meeting or one of the few women participating in the conversation,” she said. “Women and their voices are an important part of the process — just as it is important to have people with many different backgrounds in public office because of the unique set of experiences they bring to the table. I mean, we make up 50% of the population, so it makes sense we would have that type of representation in office as well.”
When trying to process what she had accomplished becoming Bluffton’s first female mayor, it hit home for Augsburger when she came across a little girl in town.
“I ran into a young girl at a swimming pool, and she was upset with me,” she recalled and laughed. “She said she wanted to be the first female mayor. She was like, ‘Wow, we have a female mayor,’ and it hadn’t even crossed my mind.”
Manchester said that seeing other women step up to the plate is what empowered her most to run for a state-level office.
“There are women who are holding office on local school boards and city councils,” she said. “I have been very encouraged to see a lot of women in my home district step up and lead. The more often women feel empowered to take that step, the better. I think that we’re just going to continue to see that more, and women know and understand that it’s not something holding them back because they’re one of the few.”
Lee said she can’t pinpoint an exact time when she started seeing more women around her in public offices. Instead, she just noticed more and more females gradually running and thinks that will be the trend as women are encouraged to jump at these opportunities.
Seibert, who serves as the first president of the Ohio Association Soil and Water Conservation District Employees, said those opportunities certainly are there.
“As far as I’m concerned, that opportunity exists, but what I find is people don’t realize that those doors are open, or they don’t view those doors as being open,” she explained. “We need to make those pathways appear and actually be open for everyone.”
Despite the progress women and other minorities have made in the political sphere, Ehora pointed out there is still much to be done.
“I’m usually one of the loudest voices to champion for women having a seat at the table,” she said. “I feel like we’ve done an OK job with that, but I don’t think it’s great. To be honest, in the last couple years in a lot of areas both locally and nationally, we’re stagnant or taking steps backward. I feel like the fight really truly is never over.”
She suggested the way to incorporate more women in leadership positions is to look at the major local organizations and their leadership.
“We need to keep asking the questions about looking at different boards and organizations and ask, ‘Where are the women? Where is the representation and discussion?’” she said. “Every person an organization should look at themselves and ask, ‘Are we inclusive?’ and that runs across many different areas in this community whether it’s gender, race or anything else. We always need to be asking ourselves those questions.”
Instead of focusing on the challenges women running for and holding positions in office, Manchester focuses on the ground they’ve been able to make up.
“When I consider the fact that only 100 years ago, which really wasn’t that long ago, women weren’t even able to vote, I consider it a great honor and privilege to have a seat at the table,” Manchester said. “I do think it’s important for women to be part of the conversation and to continue to pursue opportunities to be part of the conversation and not let the fact they’re one of the few women there hold them back.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.