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Doris Davis: The First African-American Woman Mayor of a Major Metropolitan City in the U.S



Doris A. Davis made history on this day, June 5, 1973, when she was elected as Campton, California’s largest city, and cemented her position in American and Black history as the nation’s first female African-American mayor.

Doris A. Davis, a 37-year-old former teacher who served as a city councilwoman, was elected mayor of Compton, California, on June 5th, 1973, making history as the first black woman to hold that position in a major American metropolis. She was only the second African-American woman to hold the position of president in American history. Doris, a mother of two, focused on the issues of a rising crime rate and high unemployment rates in Compton, a suburb of Los Angeles, and she garnered 55.4% of the votes.

She defeated Douglas Dollarhide, the incumbent mayor, alongside other seven primary candidates, thereby becoming the head of the city. She served as mayor between 1973 and 1977.

During her earliest days on the job, at a meeting of the City Council of Compton, a councilman, who mistakenly referred to Doris as “Mr. Mayor.” He asked, “Your honor, we are indeed fortunate to have such a charming, attractive mayor, but tell me, how you would like us to address you?” She replied, “I have researched the matter, and I believe the proper title is ‘Madam Mayor’.” The councilman responded with a guffaw, “Madam Mayor?”, and continued, “I’m sorry Mrs. Davis, but madam has such a bad connotation; I think I’d better try to find another title for you.”

The new mayor of Compton admitted that she had no reservations about how she should be addressed and then went on to rule her first council meeting with an iron grip. Evidently accustomed to these chauvinistic innuendos, Doris Davis is said to have responded amusingly to remarks like a worker suggesting she paint her office’s door pink and a political rival saying “a woman’s place is at home, in the house.”

Doris Davis is the only woman who have held the office of mayor of Compton to this day. Between 1965 and 1973, she was elected to three terms and held the position of Compton City Clerk for two terms, totaling eight years. Being the first African-American and the first female city clerk in the United States, Doris’ initial election to the job represented another historic triumph. Her life in education came before and continued alongside her political career.

With a background in elementary education, Doris launched the Daisy Child Development Centers, a non-profit organization, in 1967. She had previously taught in both Chicago and Los Angeles schools. She started it so that teenage mothers who were not married would have more options, including training, employment, housing, and childcare. Doris is still the organization’s executive director today, meeting the requirements of Compton, California residents spanning more than three generations in terms of child development.

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