Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Fairport Harbor's Dr. Amy Kaukonen

Historically, Dr. Amy Kaukonen was the first woman mayor elected in Ohio, probably, the second in the country.  Dr. Kaukonen was also the first Finnish woman doctor in the U. S.  Born in Elyria, Ohio in the year 1891, the Kaukonens moved to Conneaut, Ohio, where Amy finished number one in her Conneaut High School class.  She also finished number one in her class at the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  She started a practice in Fairport Harbor in 1920.  Witnessing the many medical maladies associated with the whiskey runners, moonshiners, and rowdy public at large, it was no surprise that Dr. Amy Kaukonen became a staunch opponent against the alcohol, dance halls, and corrupt government mores of the Fairport community.  Her public views attracted the attention of Fairport's Kasvi Temperance Hall.  She was approached by the People's Reform Party and benefiting from the recently passed 19th Amendment, Dr. Kaukonen became a candidate for public office.  In 1921, she beat her mayoral opponent William Stange by 75 votes.  History was made.

Once in office, Mayor Kaukonen waged an ongoing battle with a reelected marshal, J.H. Werbeach, who ignored Fairport's bootlegging activities.  Threats were made against her.  Two tumultuous years followed.  Werbeach's sudden death in 1923 allowed her to appoint Leander Congos as the new marshal.  A newly motivated and willing council led to other positive changes.  Amy's Mayors Court revoked alcohol permits, jailed bootleggers, and promoted bootleg eradication plans in the village.  In 1922, she used the Homeland Security provisions of the era to issue Mayor's warrants to search homes for those in violation of the Volstead Act.  Her star presence garnered accolades in New York, Cleveland, Columbus, and Boston.  President Warren G. Harding lauded her efforts.  Fairport Harbor was changing.  After decades of corruption and illegal dock activities, her civic policies led to paved streets, a water service, fire service, police service, and new and improved public schools being established.  Dr. Kaukonen continued to deliver babies and maintain her private practice throughout this transformation.

Abruptly, Mayor Kaukonen resigned in 1923 and left for Seattle.  Records indicate she married in 1928.  No children were ever mentioned.  Dr. Kaukonen continued to defend women's rights issues, i.e., bobbed hair, short skirts, dancing and singing in her remaining years.  She never regained her star presence, but her mayoral reign (1921-1923) made a lasting impact in Ohio, U. S., and Lake County history.  Fairport's renaissance from a rowdy port to a leading industrial power of the 20th c. chemical corridor spanning Toledo to upstate New York has Mayor Kaukonen as its early agent of change.

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