Johnson County celebrates Women's History Month

Women's History Month, women in several colors on a light yellow background

March is National Women’s History Month, recognizing and honoring women and women’s history. We wanted to take a moment to show appreciation for the women, past and present, who have guided, served or contributed in various ways to Johnson County. Thank you for the impact you make on our organization and our community every day.

Johnson County Board of County Commissioners

Graphic with portraits of the 12 women to serve as county commissioners

There have been 116 members of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners elected in the 167-year history of Johnson County. Only 12, or 10%, of the county commissioners have been women. They include the four female commissioners now serving on the BOCC.

District 1

  • Sue E. Weltner
  • Becky Fast (current)

District 2

  • Susie Wolf
  • Johnna Lingle

District 3

  • Annabeth Surbaugh
  • Charlotte O’Hara (current)

District 4

  • Janet D. Leick
  • Dolores Furtado
  • Elaine Beckers-Braun
  • Joan Bengtson
  • Janeé Hanzlick (current)

District 6

  • Shirley Allenbrand, current, vice chair of the board

This is the second time in Johnson County history that the board has had women in a majority. The first time occurred in the mid-1990s when four women served as county commissioners, then with a board of five members.

Johnna Lingle was first woman elected county commissioner in 1981 after being the first woman mayor in Lenexa (1973-1981). She served five consecutive terms (1981-2001) as Second District county commissioner.

In 1982, Lingle also was selected as the board’s first female chair, repeating that role in 1987, 1992 and 1997. At that time, the chairman was not elected by voters and was appointed annually by the board.

Annabeth Surbaugh, who was Third District county commissioner from 1993-2003, became the first publicly elected, at-large chair in 2003. She served two terms until 2011.

Johnson County Government management

Portrait of County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson

Penny Postoak Ferguson has served as county manager since 2018.

Management of Johnson County Government has had an appointed chief executive officer by the Board of County Commissioners for 40 years.

The current County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson is the first woman to fill that role as it exists today. She was named county manager on July 15, 2018, after serving as interim county manager for six and a half months.

Postoak Ferguson joined the Johnson County leadership team as an assistant county manager in June 2010 and was deputy county manager from August 2012 to the end of 2017.

Before Postoak Ferguson, Bernice Duletski was an assistant manager for five years (2005-2010).

Johnson County and City Halls

Portrait of Peggy Dunn, woman with short brown hair

Peggy Dunn has served as the mayor of Leawood for more than 20 years, after joining its city council in 1993.

Women gained the right to vote in Kansas municipal elections in 1887. In Johnson County history, Margaret Kelly became the first female mayor in 1890 in the city of Edgerton.

Mayor Kelly and the entire ticket of women candidates running for police judge and five city councilors won in 1890, leading to what the Kansas City Times reported as municipal affairs “administered by a petticoat government.”

According to Johnson County Museum, after serving only about a month “all of the women resigned (on May 19) from their positions after becoming offended by restrictions placed on proposed reforms” by law and men in the town. A special election was called to fill the vacancies – all by men.

It would be another 81 years for a woman to be elected mayor in Johnson County when Margaret W. Jordan was elected mayor of Leawood in 1971, serving one two-year term. Jordan then served as the first female Johnson County District Attorney from 1973 until 1977.

Historically, Edgerton was not the first community in Kansas to elect women to serve in city government. That milestone occurred in 1887 when the town of Argonia, Kansas (Sumner County) selected Susanna Salter as the first woman mayor in the United States.

Also in 1887, voters in Syracuse became the first local government in Kansas to elect an all-female city council, but a man served as mayor. A year later, Oskaloosa became the first town in the nation with an all-woman city government, including city council members and the mayor.

Fun Fact: Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn has served her city since 1997.

Johnson County and state politics

Kansas has had a state government since 1854 when it was territory until statehood in 1861. In Johnson County, a century would elapse until Jan Meyers of Overland Park became the first Johnson County woman to serve in the Kansas Senate. Meyers was a state senator from 1972 to 1984 when she made her successful bid for Congress.

Nancy J. Brown was the first woman from Johnson County to serve in the Kansas House of Representatives. Serving from 1984 to 1994, she represented the Stanley area in southeast Johnson County. Brown also was executive director of the Kansas Association of Townships. She died in 2020.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the 2022 Kansas Legislature has 50 women, representing 30.3% of the Kansas Legislature of 125 representatives and 40 senators. In 2020, 46 women, or 27.9%, served at the Kansas Statehouse. A decade ago, 45 women, or 27.3%, were elected to the Kansas Legislature.

The state’s 2022 percentage is higher than neighboring states. Women comprise only 21.5% of the Oklahoma Legislature, 25.9% in Missouri, 26.5% in Nebraska and 29.3% in Iowa. However, women represent 46% of the membership in Colorado Legislature.

Thirty-three women lawmakers now serve in the Kansas House of Representatives, and 17 women are in the Kansas Senate. Fifteen female lawmakers live in Johnson County. That’s 30% of the 50 total number of elected women at the Statehouse.

Miami County voters elected Patricia Solander of Osawatomie the first woman to the Kansas Senate in 1928.

Kansas has elected three women as governors. Joan Finney of Topeka, the first woman to hold that position, served from 1991 to 1995.

Kathleen Sebelius was elected twice as governor, starting in 2003 but resigning in April 2009 to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through June 2014.

Laura Kelly is the current 29th governor, serving since Jan. 14, 2019.

Fun Fact: The first woman to be elected to the Kansas Legislature was Minnie Tamar Johnson Grinstead. She represented Crawford County in the House of Representatives in 1918, two years before the 19th Amendment was enacted.

Johnson County and Congress

Black and white photo of Jan Meyers looking off into the distance

Jan Meyers broke barriers, serving 12 years in the State Senate, followed by an additional 12 years in Congress.

Kansas has had representation in Congress since becoming the 34th state in the Union on Jan. 29, 1861. In Johnson County, 123 years would pass until Jan Meyers of Overland Park, former member of the Kansas Senate, became the first woman from the Third District to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Representative Meyers won her congressional seat in 1984 and was re-elected five times, serving 12 years in Congress. She chose not to seek re-election in 1998.

Sharice Davids is the current U.S. Congresswoman for the Third District, serving since 2019. She is the second woman to serve the Third District.

Kansas has had two women in the U.S. Senate. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Topeka, served from 1978 to 1997. Sheila Frahm of Colby, lieutenant governor from 1995-1996, was appointed to complete Bob Dole’s Senate unexpired term from June 11 to Nov. 7, 1996.

Fun Fact: 1932, Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy from Hays was the first woman elected to Congress from Kansas. 

Johnson County and judges

In Johnson County history, Carolee Sauder Leek was the first career woman lawyer in Johnson County. She also was the county’s first female municipal judge, serving from 1965 to 1969 in the city of Mission.

The Tenth Judicial District of Kansas, often called Johnson County District Court, had its first female judge with the appointment of Jeanette Sheldon to the bench in 1977. At the time, the Johnson County Courthouse had four or five judges. Judge Sheldon retired in 2002.

Linda Trigg became the first female magistrate judge in 1999 and retired in 2017.

Rhonda Mason was appointed to the 10th Judicial District in 2016. When she was sworn in 2017, Mason became the first black district court judge to serve Johnson County and only the second in Kansas.

The Johnson County Courthouse currently has 19 district court and four magistrate judges. Seven, or 29%, of the judges are women.

Fun Fact: 1908, Mary H. Cooper of Beloit became the first woman in the nation to serve as a probate judge when she was appointed to fill an unexpired term. She was elected to a second term as probate judge in Mitchell County after running unopposed.

Johnson County and law enforcement

Framed portrait of Officer Deanna Rose in uniform

In 1985, Officer Deanna Rose became the first female officer to be killed in the line of duty in Kansas.

In Johnson County history, the first woman police chief was Ellen Hanson, who served from 1991 for 21 years at the Lenexa Police Department.  Her law enforcement career spanned 38 years at the department.

Hanson retired in October 2012 from the department. She unretired in January 2014 to become the first woman police chief, serving in an interim role, at the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department. Her second retirement began effective at the end of 2014 when a new police chief was named.  

On a sad note, Deanna Rose was the first woman police officer in Kansas history and the first Overland Park police officer to die in the line of duty.

While serving with the Overland Park Police Department, Officer Rose was injured in January 1985 when a suspect she was trying to arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated knocked her to the ground and ran her over. She died two days later from her injuries at age 26.

The Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, established in 1978 in Overland Park, was renamed in her honor in 1985.

The first woman elected sheriff in Kansas was Mabel Chase who served one term from 1926 to 1928 in Kiowa County.

Fun Fact: Dawn Layman became the second woman to serve as Lenexa police chief, starting in February 2021.

First woman doctor in Kansas

Dr. Celia Ann Dayton

Dr. Celia Ann Dayton played a key role as a doctor during the Bloody Kansas period of the mid-1800s.

In Johnson County history, Dr. Celia Ann Dayton was an early pioneer doctor in Bloody Kansas (1855-1861) and the Civil War that followed.

According to the book, A History of Spring Hill 1857-1983: “Two doctors came to Spring Hill in January 1859. They were Dr. C. A. Dayton and Dr. Hiram E. Dayton - mother and (adopted) son. Dr. Celia Ann Dayton was the first woman doctor in Kansas.”

Dr. Hiram E. Dayton was shot to death on Jan. 27, 1862, in a cabin near Blue Springs, Missouri. At the time, he was a Civil War scout for the 7th Kansas Calvary and was killed after reportedly being discovered as a Union spy against William Quantrill's Raiders. He was buried in the Spring Hill Cemetery.

“Dr. Annie Dayton, as she was called, was successful and well-loved in the community. She lived here the rest of her life. Tradition of the community is that she was very active in the Underground Railroad,” according to A History of Spring Hill.

She was also known to have offered aid and comfort to Black freedmen and freedwomen during Bloody Kansas and after the Civil War.

Dr. Annie Dayton died on Nov. 18, 1895, at age 80. She was buried beside her son in the Spring Hill Cemetery.

Celia Dayton Park, a small park located a few blocks from the cemetery, and Dayton Creek, a new elementary school and a new subdivision, are named in her memory.

County Manager's Office