|Then, in 1919, the family moved halfway across the continent to Edmonds. With about 1000 residents, the Puget Sound mill town offered a dramatically different environment than the Nebraska prairies. The couple joined the First Baptist Church and Alice was elected assistant clerk. She became active in local and statewide Baptist circles and was president of the Edmonds Coterie Club, a women’s group that promoted cultural and social activities. Many women who sought political office during that time had their grounding in such organizations, but Kerr chafed at being called a clubwoman.|
Thus, most of Kerr's concerns during two
years as mayor were those of a growing town that needed to
develop infrastructure and meet such needs as street
expansion and paving, lighting, and parking ordinances.
Waterfront improvements were made and a new ferry landing
built. A new fire truck was purchased, and there were city
beautification projects. Most encountered little opposition.
Then, the arrest of a pool room owner who had allowed a young boy to buy candy in the confectionary area of his business prompted controversy. City regulations did not allow minors in such establishments, but the owner denied he had to comply. Council members proposed to repeal the ordinances that governed the control and licensing of pool rooms.
In a “heated discussion” supporters argued that pool rooms were the only businesses paying city license fees that did not allow minors to enter their front rooms to purchase candy or ice cream, or to get haircuts. Nor was there evidence that pool halls contributed to crime. One council member suggested that the city should own and operate such establishments. The discussion extended to whether women should be allowed in pool rooms. The ordinance to repeal passed by a five to two vote, but Mayor Kerr’s opposition prompted applause from the audience.
A week later, Mayor Kerr issued a formal veto
message outlining why she considered it "unwise to do away
with all restrictions governing these places." Her veto, the
first to occur in seven years, prevented the law from going
into effect unless the council overrode it. She cited a
United States Supreme Court ruling that pool rooms and card
rooms required restrictions and argued that removing such
restrictions would deny home rule. Furthermore, "a wide
open, unrestricted, law defying policy would be unjust to
our minors, disloyal on the part of the Mayor, and unfair to
the law-abiding citizens of Edmonds." Her closing statements
reflected her moral standards: "To serve as a city official,
required sacrifice, subjects one to public criticism, but
does not demand a surrender of moral convictions, or
principle." She argued that “no self-respecting Mayor will
fail to exercise the high privilige [sic] and duty of
safe-guarding to the best of his ability, the youth of her
city, the rights of law-abiding citizens and expressing a
wholesome regard for the laws of the State of Washington."
Thus, she refused to sign the ordinance.
The council overruled the veto by the same five to two margin though supporters claimed they might prepare a more satisfactory alternative. One member suggested other institutions posed a "greater menace to our young people than pool rooms."
Kerr’s moralistic stance was reflected when she proclaimed a nightly nine o’clock curfew for children. But she did not entirely blame the youth for unruliness. To a Baptist women’s conference she delivered a flaming address condemning “high-powered cars, guaranteed to make from sixty-five to ninety miles an hour” along with bootleggers and booze distillers who “give the youth their hell's brew. . . . Let's put the blame where it belongs, and confess that the example set by the grown-ups makes the honest parent pity the rising generation."
Mayor Kerr declined to run for re-election, but she remained active in civic and church affairs, the Coterie, and the Edmonds Music and Arts Study Club. James H. Kerr, died on December 15, 1931. A decade later their 26-year-old grandson became the Edmonds’s first casualty of World War II. A naval officer, he was killed during early Japanese attacks on the Philippines.
Alice Kerr was 91 years old when she died early on Wednesday, August 10, 1949. Her three remaining children all lived in Edmonds, and she also left grandchildren, great grand children, and great great grandchildren. Services were held at the Edmonds Baptist Church, with her remains shipped to Ansley, Nebraska, to rest beside her husband.
Not until half a century after Kerr’s term as mayor did other women hold elective office in Edmonds. Several served on the council and two went on to the mayor's office: Laura Hall in 1992, succeeded four years later by Barb Fahey. Alice Kerr was not forgotten. Another successor, Mayor Gary Haakenson, took the lead in naming public rooms in the City Hall for notable predecessors; a second floor conference room honors Alice U. Kerr.
Edmonds City Council Minutes, 1924-27, microfiche in Edmonds City Hall.
The Edmonds-Triune Review, 1924-27.
Marie Botnen, "Early Edmonds . . . City Has Woman Mayor," Edmonds Tribune- Review, February 12, 1969.
“Mrs. Alice U. Kerr Former Mayor, Passes,” Edmonds Tribune-Review, August 11, 1949, p. 1.
A. U. K., "What It Costs to Develop a New Country: A Pioneer Experience," Lincoln [Nebraska] State Journal, January 2, 1927. Also typescript in Edmonds Museum. The article is written in the third-person but is clearly autobiographical.
Mrs. J. H. Kerr, "What It Costs to Develop a New Country, Article #2," typescript in Edmonds Museum.
“James H. Kerr Passes Away,” Edmonds Tribune-Review, December 18, 1931, p. 1.
|© 2007 Charles LeWarne All Rights Reserved|