The First Woman Superintendent of Schools in Kansas

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Archivist/Curator

Harvey County has the distinction of electing the first woman to be superintendent of schools in Kansas. In an earlier article, Ruth Mitten was featured as an early Harvey County Superintendent and educator, but she was not the first woman elected to be superintendent of schools. That honor goes to Mrs. Ellen Webster.

In June 1872, Mrs. Ellen Webster was elected and according to the State Record the first woman elected to as a superintendent of schools and to county office in Kansas.

State Record, 19 June 1872


Newton Kansan, 28 November 1872

As the first woman, there was some push back. The other person running filed a complaint “that she was not eligible on account of her sex.” A trial was set for July 9, 1872, “but her contestant failed to put in an appearance.” Mrs. Webster’s counsel, Col. Wood of Chase County, noted that the other party did not show because “the fellow was ashamed of himself” for bringing the case. (Chase County Leader 19 July 1872)

Newton’s First School in Cutler’s History of Kansas

Unfortunately, her time as superintendent was marred by bad decisions made under the influence of her brother, O.M. Millard. Little else is known about Ellen Webster beyond her election and the influence of her brother. Who was O.M. Millard? Not much is known about him either. Like his sister, he appears in Harvey County history for a brief time, makes an impression and then fades away.

“A Few Questions of O.M. Millard”

O.M. Millard was elected justice of the peace in 1872-1873. Prior to the election there were many questions about his character with hints about his influence on his sister.

In an October 24, 1872, letter to the editor, Lakin Township residents who knew him best noted that he had “announced himself for Representative of Harvey county . . . we will ask a few questions of O.M. Millard.”

The writers of the letter noted several areas of concern including the observation that he was more concerned about who would pay him the most. Bribery was also mentioned. The residents noted that he dismissed a criminal case “under the Texas cattle law, against a man who was driving a drove of wild cattle through, without calling a jury as the law requires, for the pitiful bribe of ten dollars” as one example.

He advised his sister, Ellen Webster, superintendent of schools, “to make charges against the county for all the days possible and had such ungodly influence over her that the county commissioners . . . were compelled to cut down her bill one-half.”  

“When the Wicked are in Authority the People Mourn”

The accusations continued and included attempted rape of a young girl “who went to the house of Mrs. E. Webster during absence on an errand.” Millard was at his sister’s house alone and he threatened the girl. She reportedly “fled home like a scared fawn.” The newspaper account noted that “the villain said: ‘I will tell all the young men she is a loose character’.” The letter concluded with “save yourselves from such a calamity as the election of that man; for when the wicked are in authority the people mourn.” Signed: Many Citizens (Newton Kansan, 24 October 1872).

Millard was not elected as a Representative.

By May 1873, Millard was working to establish a Grange of the order of Patrons of Husbandry in Sedgwick County, Ks.

October 31, 1872, F.L. Faatz was on the ballot for Superintendent of Public Instruction, “well known in this vicinity as moral and upright.”

By February Mr. F. L. Faatz was the County Superintendent. O. M. Mallard continued to work with grange organization in the area. Of Mrs. Ellen Webster, the first woman Superintendent of Schools in Kansas, no more information could be found.

See also Qualified in Every Detail: Miss Ruth Mitten – Harvey County Historical Society (


  • Newton Kansan: 17 October 1872, 28 November 1872, 6 February 1873,
  • Manhattan Nationalist 12 July 1872
  • Chase County Leader 19 July 1872.
  • Topeka Weekly Times: 11 July 1872.
  • Wichita Eagle: 1 May 1873, 17 July 1873.

Qualified in Every Detail: Miss Ruth Mitten

by Kristine Schmucker, Archivist/Curator

The Most Important County Offices”

In advance of the 1910 vote for Harvey County Superintendent of schools the Newton Journal broadly proclaimed, “One of the most important county offices is that of superintendent of schools . . .”  Efficiency was highly desired, practical knowledge, executive ability and “a sincere devotion to the work.  Above all things the office should not be one with political coloring.”

Who could fill such a position? The editors recommended the democratic candidate, “a young lady qualified in every detail,” Miss Ruth Mitten.

Ruth Emma Mitten was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, in May 1876. Ruth was the fifth child in a family of ten children. She grew up on the family farm and attended local schools. Ruth came from a family that valued education. Her father, J.H. Mitten, a Civil War veteran, served as county superintendent in Illinois and likely provided inspiration for Ruth’s chosen career.

Mitten graduated from Mendota High School, Mendota, Ill in 1894. She continued her education at Illinois Normal University, Normal, Ill and the University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill. While she was educating herself, she was also teaching in local schools.

In 1902, she traveled with her parents, J. H. & Almira Bell Ransbarger Mitten to Harvey County, Ks. Her first teaching job in Kansas was in ElDorado, but after a year she taught in Harvey County schools. The family farm was located 2 1/2 miles east of Newton on 1st Street.

No doubt her father was a source of wisdom for Ruth embarking on her own time as county superintendent.

“Forget Political Affiliations . . . To Vote Right “

The newspaper editor praised Miss Mitten, a Democrat, as highly qualified for the position of County Superintendent noting that “she is thoroughly conversant with school law and requirement . . . possesses that tact and diplomacy so essential in successful school work. She has splendid business judgment and practical common sense.”  The editor concluded by urging voters to “forget political affiliations long enough to vote right on this matter.” (Newton Kansan 27 October 1910)

Newton Kansan, 15 October 1914

Miss Mitten won the election in 1910. She was reelected in 1912, 1914, and 1916. In 1912, she ran unopposed.

“The Best Years of Her Life”

The A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans (1918) praised Mitten for giving “the best years of her life to educational work and progress.”

As Harvey County Superintendent, she supervised seventy-five schools, 125 teachers and a total enrollment of 5,730 students. Her offices were located in the courthouse.

Mitten was also active in the Christian Church, where she served as superintendent of the junior department. Contributing to the community was also important and she was involved in the Macon Township Grange, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and several state and local teacher associations.

In 1918, Miss Mitten was appointed to the Education Commission with the National Educational Association. She was appointed by Kansas State Superintendent, W.D. Ross.  The Education Commission was to act in advisory capacity to the National organization giving each state a voice, “so that when it [National Educational Association] makes a pronouncement on national education it can speak not for itself but for all of the highest educational interests of the country.” (Newton Kansan 4 July 1918) It was an honor for Miss Mitten to be asked for such a role.

Ruth Emma Mitten.

Ruth Mitten resigned from her position on September 1, 1920. The County Commissioners accepted her resignation and appointed Mary Morrison to fill the position until the November election.  Mitten served has County Superintendent for five consecutive terms, “having always rendered excellent service and her resignation from that office was receive with regret in the educational circles throughout the county.”  The Kansan noted that she, along with her father J.H. Mitten and two brothers planned to travel to Furgis, Montana to visit another brother, J.H. Mitten Jr, at his ranch “for an indefinite time.” (Newton Kansan, 6 August 1920)

Ruth Mitten died November 5, 1942 at the age of 66. She is buried in an unmarked grave in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.


  • Newton Kansan:  21 May 1906,  27 October 1910,  15 October 1914, 14 July 1918, 2 April 1920, 6 August 1920.
  • “Ruth Emma Mitten.” A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, 1918, transcribed by students from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, March 13, 2000.
  • Photos from L.London on Find A Grave, Ruth Mitten (1876-1942).

Bringing Sunshine to Sorrowing Hearts: Mrs. Louisa J. Lehman

by Kristine Schmucker, Archivist/Curator

What was life like for the women who came with their husbands to Newton in 1871-72? Their stories are usually harder to find and not as glamourous, but do give a glimpse into real life on the prairie.

In February 1872, Samuel Lehman and his bride arrived in Newton. Mrs. Lehman had the distinction of being “one of the first brides in the primitive town” [Newton]. When the Lehmans arrived in Newton, Samuel went into the hardware business  with Dwight R. Bennett, who also had a young wife, Sarah. The two were neighbors and became friends.


A Bennett family story tells about interactions between the Native Americans and the two young women.

The Indians from Indian Territory would come to Newton.  They were quite wild  at the time . . . Sarah with her young neighbor, Mrs. Lehman who lived next door would lock their doors and would stand outside their houses to trade grease and sugar and other articles or groceries for beads and baskets made by the Indians.”

One can only imagine what other experiences the two shared.

At the time of the Lehman’s arrival, Newton boasted between 13 & 14 buildings and “nothing but prairie to be seen and great herds of cattle” according to the memories of Samuel Lehman. One can only imagine how it looked to his new bride, Louisa.

A year later, Bennett sold his interest in the lumber company to Lehman and moved his family back to Ohio. Perhaps Louisa gave this photo of herself to Sarah as a  remembrance.

Louisa Glendening Lehman

Capable Leadership

Mrs. Louisa J. Glendening Lehman continued to live in Newton and became a leader in the community.  She was born in Bunrysburg, Ohio on February 16, 1848 and died on June 6, 1918 in Newton, Ks.  In  1870, she moved to Topeka, Ks where  she met and married Samuel Lehman on February 12, 1872. The newlyweds left for Newton shortly after. The couple had two children, Glenn and Neva.

Lehman Home, 1870s

Described as cheerful person, devoted to her family and church always “bringing sunshine to sorrowing hearts wherever she found them.” She served has president of the Ladies Reading Circle for sixteen years “during a period when capable leadership meant so much and never failed in her service or faithfulness.” 

One wonders what other stories she would tell about the early days in Newton.


  • Newton Kansan: 10 January 1918, 18 June 1922
  • Register Report for Dwight Ripley Bennett, p. 1. provided by Joe W. Zeman, Norman, Ok. HCHM Archivist/Curator Files: Lehman.
  • Thank you to Joe W. Zeman who identified the photos in his family’s collection as from Newton, contacted HCHM and donated the photos to our collection.  Without this, we would not have a photos of Louisa J. Lehman or her house.