Estelle L. Lindsay

L.A.’s First Council Woman

Echo Park’s Lindsay First Woman in U.S. to Win Major Municipal Office

The progressive era of the 19-teens produced its share of Echo Park political luminaries as well as the artists, actors and beautiful nuts we more commonly associate with Edendale.

Among the political notables of Echo Park was journalist/activist Estelle Lawton Lindsay, who lived at 2416 Echo Park Avenue and worked for over five decades to advance a “woman’s point of view” even as she wrote archly of movie starlets. Lindsay, who remained a syndicated newspaper columnist until her retirement at age 80, ran unsuccessfully for state assembly in 1912 and 1914, but won a high-profile seat on the city council in 1915, the first woman to gain major municipal political office in this country. Serving as chief pro-tem for a day in 1915, she also became the first woman ever to act as mayor of a major American city.

In her article “Redefining The Political: Socialist Women, Party Politics, and Social Reform in Progressive-Era California,” Sherry Katz writes, “Lindsay belonged to a well-organized network of socialist women that operated as an influential political tendency within California’s radical and woman’s movements during the Progressive Era.”

Even so, prior to her city council election, Lindsay was thrown off the socialist ticket during a convention that ended in uproar, with supporters of Lindsay storming out of the hall amid a fracas that was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Lindsay was born in South Carolina. According to an obituary in the Los Angeles Times, she met her husband, Dudley, in Kentucky while working for the I.R.S. The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1908, and Lindsay started working for the Los Angeles Express newspaper shortly after their arrival.

Before her council election victory, the Political Watchman columnist for the Los Angeles Times observed:

“Estelle Lawton Lindsay and Clara Shortridge Feltz wore no hobble skirts in the primary campaign, else they could not have made such long strides and shown so much speed. Both of them have exactly sixteen male candidates very much worried.”

A large character, Lindsay could put her particular brand of largess to use for the dual purpose of political strategy and entertainment. In a bind over whether to support a ban on billboards in the city (an issue over which she apparently flip-flopped in favor of billboards), Lindsay is said by an L.A. Times reporter to have begun rambling during a council session about how she was a descendant of William the Conqueror and those knew in her bones how to rise and face a challenge.

Her real passions were issues related to the rights of women and workers.

Katz writes that: “In urging other women to run for office, [Lindsay says] …that ‘suffrage without holding office [was] like apple pie with the apples left out.’”

According to Katz: “As a leader of three social welfare committees [Lindsay] championed public health measures, pressed enforcement of the state’s anti-prostitution law, fought for greater city services for impoverished women, and secured the appointment of several female deputies assigned to investigate crimes against women and children.” She also pushed for “improvements in the wages and working conditions of municipal employees and fought the municipal employment bureau’s attempt to furnish strikebreakers to private employers.”

Lindsay was defeated in her bid for a second term on the council but remained active in women’s groups and in city politics. In 1932, the Los Angeles Times reported that Lindsay represented a group of women’s clubs in opposing a plan to drill for oil north of Elysian Park.

Lindsay died in 1955 at the age of 87.

–Jenny Burman