An 1897 Election Romance

The political contest for the job as Burt County superintendent of schools in 1897 was an unusual one, which fostered what the Omaha Daily Bee on November 17, 1897, called an “Election Romance at Tekamah.” The Bee noted that the romance resulted in the marriage of a Republican officeholder-elect and his Populist opponent and present incumbent of the office.

The Bee said: “By the resignation of C. F. Beck, now deputy state superintendent, the office of county superintendent in this county became vacant January 1, 1897. For the appointment to fill the vacancy numerous applications were filed with the county supervisors. Among them were the names of C. [Clifford] S. Laughlin and Miss Alice Thomason. The latter having been an ardent free silver advocate during the preceding campaign and having the endorsement of the chairman of the populist county central committee and the assistance of her brother, A. E. Thomason, an attorney of this city who had faithfully stumped the state for Bryan and free silver, [and who] secured the appointment, as the board was controlled by populists. Mr. Laughlin being known as a strong republican, was scarcely considered.”

Women enjoyed school suffrage in Nebraska in 1897, and Miss Thomason as the new superintendent of schools administered the affairs of her office “in a very satisfactory manner. From the start she was looked upon as the logical candidate of her party for nomination and election this fall. She carried the endorsements of the entire populist press and early leaders and at a convention of her party held prior to the nominating convention her administration of office was publicly endorsed.”

The Republicans soon afterward nominated Laughlin. “From that time on Miss Thomason and her friends ceased active work in her behalf. Their betrothal was known during the campaign and it was understood that after election they would probably be married. Mr. Laughlin was elected by a handsome majority and two days after the result was announced cards of invitation were out to their wedding, which occurred at the home of the bride’s parents at Alta, Ia.” Both bride and groom had strong ties to the Burt County public schools. Thomason, prior to her appointment as superintendent, was assistant principal of Tekamah High School. Laughlin was a teacher until his victory at the polls in 1897 and served as county school superintendent from 1898 until 1902.

Most newspaper readers in Nebraska and elsewhere approved of this unconventional election outcome. The Chicago Record noted that “Miss Thomason turns out to be the victor after all. Mr. Laughlin will draw the salary, to be sure, but the young woman will spend it.”


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