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The Women of the Los Angeles City Council: Part One

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
City of Los Angeles Councilwomen: Estelle Lawton Lindsey, Rosalind Wyman and Harriett Davenport
City of Los Angeles Councilwomen: Estelle Lawton Lindsey, Rosalind Wyman and Harriett Davenport

Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to celebrate the women who have served as councilmembers of the Los Angeles City Council. Each week during the month of March, we will be highlighting several different women councilmembers.

Since its establishment by the California Legislature in 1850, the council has seated only 19 women. Each councilwoman has made her own unique contribution to the City of Los Angeles.

This week we are highlighting the first three women of the Los Angeles City Council: Estelle Lawton Lindsey, Rosaline Wiener Wyman, and Harriett Davenport.

Estelle Lawton Lindsey (b. 1868-d. 1955)
Councilwoman Estelle Lawton Lindsey, Municipal Reference Collection:Biographical Data/California Index

Estelle Lawton Lindsey [b.1868 - d.1955] At-large Council Member, 1915-1917

When California women gained the right to vote in 1911, journalist Estelle Lawton Lindsey was not satisfied to stay on the political sidelines, stating, “Suffrage without holding office is like apple pie with the apples left out.” Following failed runs for California State Assembly as a Socialist, Lindsey found success as an independent in the 1915 Los Angeles City Council election. With support from labor and women’s groups, she became the first woman elected to the governing body of a major metropolis in the United States. Lindsey received fanfare in the national press when she served as acting mayor for a day, though her role as “City Mother” kept her far busier on a routine basis. As commissioner of public welfare, Lindsey oversaw the operation of parks, playgrounds, libraries, arts, city planning, animal welfare, and film censorship departments. She secured the hiring of women deputies to investigate crimes against women and children and saw the completion of a 10-acre municipal farm at the foot of Elysian Park, which served as a job training center for women convicted of crimes. Lindsey was defeated in her bid for a second term, but she remained active in city government, serving as a commissioner for the animal services and humane department boards.

Rosalind Wiener Wyman
Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, [1965]. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Rosalind Wiener Wyman [b.1930] 5th Council District, 1953-1965
Miracle Mile, West Los Angeles, Westwood

In 1953, Rosalind “Roz” Wiener (later Wyman) was 22 years old and a new USC graduate when she became the youngest person ever elected to the Los Angeles City Council. With support from a multiethnic coalition of voters, she won the seat representing the 5th Council District, bringing a liberal voice to the traditionally conservative Council. Wyman supported the city’s adoption of a municipal Fair Employment Practices Committee to prohibit discrimination in the workplace, although the ordinances always failed to pass; President Kennedy later invited her to the White House for a conference on civil rights. Wyman played a key role in bringing the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, and her pitch to owner Walter O’Malley about no rain-outs convinced him to move his team west. The Dodgers’ project was controversial and, along with her public clashes with Mayor Sam Yorty, contributed to Wyman’s waning support and eventual defeat in her 1965 bid for a fourth term. A power player in the Democratic Party, Wyman has stayed politically active; she chaired the 1984 Democratic National Convention and attended the 2016 convention as California’s oldest delegate.

Councilwoman Harriet Davenport (center) participates in a groundbreaking at MacArthur Park
Councilwoman Harriet Davenport (center) participates in a groundbreaking at MacArthur Park, [1954]. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Harriett Davenport [b.1894 - d.1976] 12th Council District, 1953-1955
Westlake, MacArthur Park

When Ed J. Davenport, councilman to the 12th Council District, suddenly passed away soon after reelection in 1953, his widow Harriett was not initially interested in succeeding him. A former schoolteacher, and active in groups like the Small Property Owners’ League, Pro America, and the Chamber of Commerce, Davenport agreed to her candidacy only at the urging of several women’s groups and civic organizations. With two other contenders for the seat, Davenport was unanimously appointed by the Council on the third round of voting during a secret session. Her late husband had been rabidly anti-Communist and confrontational, prompting heated clashes that in one instance resulted in a fellow councilman calling him a “blabbermouth.” Mrs. Davenport proved to be a much less colorful character, but remained committed to Ed’s politics, saying “I stand where my husband stood and I will check his voting record as a guide.”She served on the Personnel Committee, the Police and Fire Committee, and the Water and Power Committee. She completed one term before announcing her retirement, citing plans to spend time with an ill sister. Nonetheless, Davenport maintained her presence at City Hall, serving on the Pension Board from 1955 to 1961.