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In 1966 the West St. Paul Booster declared Devona Weatherhead the “first lady councilman in West St. Paul.” After winning in November, she became the first woman to serve on West St. Paul’s City Council in 1967.
“I’m a firm believer in doing something about a thing if you can and accepting things as they are if you can’t do anything about it,” Weatherhead told the West St. Paul Booster. “I guess you’d say I believe in put up or shut up.”
“I started out that morning to buy a loaf of bread and ended up filing for the council.”Devona Weatherhead
Before settling down in West St. Paul in 1957, Weatherhead attended 27 different schools growing up and moved 13 times since getting married. She worked as a bookkeeper, court reporter, receptionist, and administrative assistant. Weatherhead and her husband Douglas had three children.
Running for Office
West St. Paul Mayor Robert Callahan encouraged Weatherhead to get involved in local politics, where she started as chairperson of the county Republican party.
Prior to serving on City Council, Weatherhead had served on the Planning Commission, as commander of American Legion Post 621, in Camp Fire leadership, and as a den mother. She was also a member of St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
Weatherhead recounted her decision to run for the West St. Paul Centennial book:
“I actually became interested in better streets for West St. Paul and in other city projects. At this time I was on the Planning Commission and happened to stop in the store one day for a loaf of bread. Several people stopped me to ask if I had filed to run for Council. I had not and it was the last day, but before going home, I went to City Hall and put in my application.”West St. Paul Centennial: 1889-1989
She tells the story that simply: “I started out that morning to buy a loaf of bread and ended up filing for the council,” she told the West St. Paul Booster. “I like last minute things.”
Weatherhead described her campaign as a “personal approach” to every house in ward one. And it worked
“I feel it is the duty of every individual to be alert to conditions in government; alert to the revision and constant attention needed in such matters as zoning, charters, building codes and many other details and important matters,” Weatherhead said in a candidate questionnaire in the West St. Paul Booster. “With my experience and active interest in our community, I believe I could serve the community well.”
At the time, two council members were elected from each ward in each election, so four names appeared on the ballot and the two with the most votes won.
Here are the election results from 1966:
- Jacob Marthaler: 904
- Devona Weatherhead: 622
- Robert Russell: 581
- Aloys Jarosch: 541
“My election had Jake Marthaler, bless him, asking me how did I do it!” Weatherhead reflected in a letter to the West St. Paul Centennial committee.
Serving West St. Paul
After winning the election and prior to taking office, Weatherhead talked about a better approach to politics.
“I want to see a more healthy council-citizen relationship,” she told the West St. Paul Booster. “I’m going to tell people not to call me up and complain but come on over for coffee and we’ll talk about it. I hope we can do things not in an argumentative way, but openly and with suggestions.”
Weatherhead describes her single term as “emotionally, mentally, and physically a trying two years.”
She opted not to run again She ran again in 1968, but lost by 83 votes. Weatherhead later said, “My husband and children were happy to have more of my attention at home.”
Weatherhead continued to be involved, setting up mock political elections at Sibley High School and training election judges.
“It’s really why I got into it,” she said, “to help my children and try and contribute to the community where we live.”
It would be more than 20 years before another woman served on City Council, with the 1990 win of Sandra Shirley. To date, a total of seven women have served on West St. Paul’s City Council, starting with Devona Weatherhead (maybe you should run). (Update: With the 2020 election, West St. Paul’s City Council became majority female for the first time ever.)
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Thanks to the Dakota County Historical Society for information and access to their archives.