Courtesy State Historical Society
Annie White Baxter
By Nicole Heisick
Elected Before Women Could Vote (1864-1944)
Almost 30 years before women received the right to vote, Annie White Baxter shocked the community when she was nominated as Jasper County clerk. Even more shocking, Baxter was elected, making her the first woman in the United States to ever be elected to the office of county clerk.
Baxter was born on March 2, 1864, in Pennsylvania and moved at a young age to Missouri with her parents, growing up in Carthage and Joplin. As a student at Carthage High School, Baxter developed a reputation as the most outspoken, aggressive, and commanding person in her class. After graduation, she found a job at the Jasper County Courthouse where she eventually became the chief deputy county clerk.
In 1890, her stance as a strong proponent for an efficiently run county government earned her a Democratic nomination for Jasper County clerk. With her nomination came great public debate on whether or not she should be allowed to run. Women did not have the right to vote at the time. In the end, Baxter ran for office and won the election by more than 400 votes.
Upset with defeat, her opponent, Julius Fischer, challenged her victory, saying that votes for her were not legal because she was a woman. The dispute went to the Greene County Circuit Court, where it was determined that her victory was legitimate. In the ruling, the court also ordered Fischer to pay Baxter’s legal fees.
As county clerk, Baxter dedicated herself to improving clerical efficiency in county practices. She was also one of the county officials involved in planning and overseeing construction of a new courthouse to replace the one that was badly damaged during Confederate occupation. The courthouse, completed in 1895, is still used as the courthouse today and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Baxter’s hard work and dedication were recognized at the time by Missouri Gov. David R. Francis, who named her an honorary colonel on his staff, earning her the nickname of “Colonel Baxter.”
After her term as county clerk ended, Baxter moved to St. Louis, then to Jefferson City where she was hired as land registrar, working under Secretary of State Cornelius Roach from 1908 to 1916. From there, she went on to be financial secretary to the Missouri Constitutional Convention.
Baxter took a brief vacation from her political career when she served as secretary to James T. Quarles, the dean of the University of Missouri’s School of Fine Arts. Her stint in the educational field was short lived. She returned to Jefferson City to continue her interest in politics and later served as a delegate in the 1936 Democratic State Convention in Joplin.
Baxter remained active in Democratic Party politics until she died on June 28, 1944, leaving behind a legacy of a dedicated civil servant, groundbreaking player in politics, and forerunner in the fight for women’s rights and equality. She paved the way for the female politicians of today, from vice-presidential candidates to presidential primary nominations.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re showcasing our Top 10 Women of Missouri, featured in the February 2012 of Missouri Life and selected by our panelists. To read our panelists’ bios, click here. For a full list of our 95 nominees for Top 10 Women of Missouri, click here. For more stories like this, subscribe to Missouri Life magazine.