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Walthourville honors first mayor, council

All-women government cut own path

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POSTED: August 25, 2007 5:03 a.m.
In the winter of 1974, history was being made in the west end of Liberty County.
Just a few months into existence and after then Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter had appointed Lyndol Anderson and five other women to serve as interim mayor and council, the newly formed town of Walthourville was in the midst of its inaugural city election in early December.
The council, comprised of women who worked to have the city incorporated after rumors spread of a potential move by Hinesville to annex the 413-person community, had been running the municipality as smoothly as newcomers to city government could since the spring.
But the idea of women controlling government had not yet taken hold in most parts of the country and Walthourville was no different. Although men within the community were not particularly interested or involved in its incorporation, the women found themselves facing an all-male pool of opponents ready to takeover what they had started.
“I still don’t think when it comes down to government of a city, all women should be able to run it,” mayoral candidate Thomas “Ed” Rogers said in an interview with the CBS Evening News.
Unbeknownst to Rogers and the other male challengers, however, Walthourville was about to become an example for an entire nation.
On election night, 227 of the city’s 237 registered voters showed up at the Walthourville polling house. By a nearly two-to-one margin in the mayoral and each of the council seat races, the women soundly defeated their male opponents.
Walthourville had officially become a city run by the “womenfolk.”
More than 30 years later, Anderson, her councilwomen Ardith Herbert, Carrie Kent-Brown, Maxine Gaskin, Faye Booth and Celia Davis and clerk Molene Burke were recently recognized for their accomplishment by Walthourville’s current administration, residents and the Liberty County Historical Society in a special ceremony to unveil a marker created in their honor.
“I am happy today because we, the councilmembers, and the citizens of this great city of Walthourville have come together to honor our heroes, our first mayor and council,” Walthourville Mayor Henry Frasier said. “We’ve gathered today to show our love and our deep concern for them, for what they’ve done, by erecting a monument for them. And in this we show our love to them and we thank them and we thank God for what they’ve done.”
What the ladies did was transform the little town known for its railroad crossing into a bustling hub for the western section of Liberty County.
During their first four years in office, the council was responsible for purchasing Walthourville’s first water system for $1, and 40 street lights, speed limit signs, city license plates, appointing the first voter registration board and organizing the first city clean-up day.
The first mayor and council also purchased the building that currently houses Walthourville’s city hall and post office.
For their work, Anderson and the council were spotlighted in newspaper articles throughout the country and received numerous feature spots on national television with the CBS Evening News with Walter Kronkite.
While at the time many people connected the all-woman government to the Women’s Liberation Movement beginning to spread across the nation, Anderson refused to buy into the hype.
“It’s women all right, but we’re going to leave off the libs,” she told an interviewer from the CBS Evening News.
According to her daughter, Liberty County Magistrate Court Judge Melinda Anderson, however, the women of Walthourville inspired females near and far.
“One woman in Poland even wrote a letter about Mama,” she said during the ceremony. “We had to get someone from Fort Stewart-it was in Polish-we had to get somebody at Fort Stewart to find someone who could translate it so we’d know what it said.”
Admitting she too did not understand the phenomenon at the time, Judge Anderson said as she recently searched through old newspaper articles and watched archived news clips, she began to realize the full impact of what her mother and the council came to symbolize.
“This just goes to show you that you don’t always know what kind of impact you’re going to have on other people when you’re doing something, so be careful,” she said.
After thanking the crowd, former Mayor Anderson was short on words at the ceremony, but former councilwoman Ardith Herbert got in one last joke on the men.
“We started out not knowing what we were doing, but we survived and we got things going,” she said, recounting those early days in office. “And we had our first election and all the men ran against us. But guess what? We beat all the men.”
The crowd clapped and cheered with approval.
 

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