Baldwin City recognizes female 19th-century political leader with park bench mural
photo by: Frank Perez/submitted photo
A recently opened park named in honor of 19th-century Baldwin City mayor Lucy Sullivan now has a new piece of public art to pay tribute to her life and legacy.
About 30 people gathered Saturday morning for the unveiling of a bench with a mural depicting Sullivan and scenes associated with her term as mayor and life in Baldwin City. The bench is located in Sullivan Square, a three-month old city park built in a vacant lot in the 700 block of High Street. The stately home of Lucy and the Rev. John Sullivan once stood in the downtown lot.
“Lucy Sullivan was the third woman elected mayor in this county,” said Jeannette Blackmar, executive director of the Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City. “She was elected with an all-women city council.”
Sullivan and the four-woman city council were elected in 1889, two years after Kansas first allowed women to vote in municipal elections and stand for city offices. One of the women’s campaign promises was to build a bridge over Tauy Creek, which separates the city’s railroad depot from its downtown. Crossing the creek muddied the long dresses and coats women of the day wore.
Under the women’s leadership, the bridge was constructed at the cost of $209, according to a May 19, 2005, story in the Lawrence Journal-World. The so-called “women’s bridge,” with its limestone barrel vault, still stands. It was rehabilitated with the help of a $984,000 Kansas Department of Transportation grant awarded in 2005.
“They built sidewalks, too,” Blackmar said of Sullivan and her city council. “They were all defeated after one year, but Lucy Sullivan stayed active in the community. She and her husband were very active at Baker University, where John Sullivan was a trustee.”
Lucy Sullivan hosted many student activities at the couple’s house, and the Sullivans invited some students to live in their home, Blackmar said. The home and lot were also the site of many community events, such as band concerts, she said.
“Opening the park here on this lot is the closing of a circle,” she said.
The bench dedicated Saturday was the first of five that are to be placed in the park, Blackmar said. As part of a joint project of the city, the Baldwin City Public Library and the Lumberyard Arts Center, all of the benches will have murals illustrating Baldwin City history.
Becky Weaver, the lead artist on the bench mural unveiled Saturday, said she and her team spent about five months researching Lucy Sullivan for the work and another month on the actual painting. The research included communicating with the other mural teams to ensure no themes were duplicated, she said.
Sullivan was elected Baldwin City mayor 32 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, which extended voting rights to American women in all elections. Her story of providing an example of female activism in the male-dominated local politics of the day is part of the overall struggle for women’s suffrage, said Cole Finley, marketing coordinator for the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence.
The museum is working with local historical societies in the county to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Finley said, and it will put on an online presentation at 10 a.m. Aug. 26. Historian Jeanne Klein will be portraying Lawrence suffrage activist Genevieve Howland Chalkley for the virtual event. Those interested in viewing the free presentation can register at watkinsmuseum.org.
The Baldwin City Library will also be hosting a program about Lucy Sullivan’s life at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 via Zoom.