KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Tuesday night’s election results show voters not only chose to elect Knoxville’s second female mayor, consecutively, but they also picked more women to serve on the next City Council than any other council in city history.
The first woman elected to serve on the City Council was Hattie Love in 1938. Love served one, two-year term. The city wouldn’t elect another woman to serve until 1968 when Bernice O’Connor was chosen by voters.
Beginning in 1970, the city had nine people make up the council. The incoming group of leaders is made up of seven women and two men, which has never come close to happening before.
The current council has four women serving. Aside from the 1976-1977 council, there has never been more than three women to serve at once on the nine-member board.
To provide some perspective into what it’s like serving as a woman, we spoke to former City Councilwoman Barbara Pelot, who served from 2002-2009. She served one term as the only woman on the council, and three terms as one of two women serving.
“I was the only woman and there were eight other men. I loved it. They treated me with respect and I respected them. I felt comfortable with them,” Pelot said.
Pelot said she’s familiar with an “old boys club” type of local government, citing stories she’s heard over the years, but said that’s not what she experienced on City Council.
She also doesn’t believe Tuesday night’s results show a sign of any ideological change in voters. In fact, she thinks the opportunity for women to be elected to local offices has existed for some time.
While Pelot acknowledged women provide valuable perspective, she also said she believes in a more balanced council versus a predominantly female one.
“I think it’s critical because that really represents the voting body out there, that represents the people you’re going to serve,” she said. “And, you learn so much when you have a mix. A mix is really a wonderful education.”
Voter Dami Hopkin believes the results mean change is coming. She hopes, ultimately, it is a big step for women locally. While Hopkin would support a male candidate she believed in, she is happy to have more female representation and thinks it will put women’s rights on a greater priority.
“I believe in balance when it comes to male and female in leadership, but I also feel like women have been put aside in many cases or not granted full possibility and a chance,” Hopkin said. “So, I feel like these women who have made it have worked really hard and deserve to be where the are now.”
Breakdown of women serving on Knoxville City Council
- 1970-1971 1
- 1972-1973 0
- 1974-1975 2
- 1976-1977 3
- 1978-1979 2
- 1980-1981 2
- 1982-1983 2
- 1984-1985 1
- 1986-1987 1
- 1988-1989 1
- 1990-1991 1
- 1992-1993 2
- 1994-1995 2
- 1996-1997 2
- 1998-1999 2
- 2000-2001 2
- 2002-2003 1
- 2004-2005 2
- 2006-2007 2
- 2008-2009 2
- 2010-2011 2
- 2012-2013 1
- 2014-2015 1
- 2016-2017 1
- 2018-2019 4
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