Birmingham’s lady commissioner

30 Things I Didn’t Know about Birmingham

I am sharing interesting tidbits I’ve recently learned about Birmingham and some of her people. These items may be new to you as well or just a reminder. 

Number SEVEN

I just learned that Mary Echols was elected as Birmingham’s first – and only – female commissioner on this day in 1921, just a year after Congress ratified the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote.

From 1911 to 1963 Birmingham was governed by commissioners. (Most of that time, there were three commissioners, but from 1915 to 1923, the commissioners grew to five.) Echols served as commissioner of health and education.

Her job ranged from listening plumbers complain about the dangers of Birmingham’s defective plumbing (Echols stated there was no definitive plan to correct the problem, but the issue would probably be brought before the entire commission) to weighing in on the possible vulgarity of photos of a “fight film.” Echols thought the film was fine and provided an endorsement. “The picture is as clean as can be,” she said. “I know as I have seen it. If I thought there was anything objectionable in it or anything that would in any way hurt the morals of our young men and women I would go hungry before I would vote for it.

Echols did not serve her full six-year term because the commission eliminated two positions. Tragically, she died in 1929 when her clothes caught on fire after she brushed against a space heater at her home.

Mary Echols

Mary Echols

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