Women Break into Politics

Today, we take it for granted that women serve on the San Anselmo Town Council and are active in the management of town affairs. However, this has not always been the case.

When the town was incorporated in 1907, women were not allowed to vote or to hold elected office; they were first able to vote in California in 1912. The San Anselmo women voters of 1912 agreed that there were no women sufficiently informed about town affairs to be suitable candidates for office, and that it would be futile to attempt putting forth a woman candidate.

In 1916, the San Anselmo Women’s Improvement Club, which had been instrumental in securing a library for the town, challenged allegations that women were not fit to assume the “arduous” duties of holding elected office by nominating their president Ray Sanders for trustee (as council members were called then). The women argued that town government was merely housekeeping on a larger scale. Sanders, a 32-year old single woman, advocated proper enforcement of ordinances, reduced taxes, and better conditions in town. A vote for Sanders was a “vote for progress, for respect of the law, and for civic betterment.” Sixty percent of the voters went to the polls. It was rumored that many women only voted for one candidate, instead of two, in hopes of giving their candidate an advantage. However, Sanders was the low vote-getter among the five candidates.

Carmel Booth

Carmel Booth & her mother Nora Kasser

Thirty-two years passed before another woman ran for town council. In 1948, Carmel Booth was one a seven candidates for two seats on the council. Booth advocated open meetings rather than “dealings behind closed doors” and a reduced tax rate. She described herself as a homemaker interested in the city, rather than a politician. However, Booth was no stranger to the political arena; she was one of the organizers of the Marin County Democratic Women’s Forum, served on the Democratic County Central Committee, worked on several state and federal campaigns, and was San Anselmo’s police commissioner. She was elected by the second highest vote ever received by a candidate for council.

Carmel Booth’s tenure on the council was often stormy. She was a woman of strong opinions, and certainly was not afraid to speak her mind. Booth was described as being emotional, feisty, and outspoken, while others found her full of wit and warmth and passionate in her convictions.

She was elected mayor in 1950 by a 3-2 vote, and the city attorney, with whom she had a contentious relationship, resigned. She was elected mayor again in 1951. In 1952, she resigned from the council and made an unsuccessful run for the Marin County Board of Supervisors. In 1954, she was re-elected to town council and then ran unsuccessfully again for supervisor in 1956. In July 1957, she resigned in disagreement with her fellow council members over employee relations, but was again elected to council in 1958. With only 38% of the voters voting, she was the second highest voter-getter out of 7 candidates. She resigned for the last time in July 1960.

During the next 20 years, women occasionally stepped forth to run for town council; town gadfly Sarah Nome ran unsuccessfully several times. In April 1980, Anne Wooliever was elected to council and was the 2nd highest vote getter. Since that time, there has been at least one woman on each council.

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