Albina R. Cermak

She Brought Her Hat to the 1961 Mayoral Bid

It is autumn 1961 and an election campaign is underway. You see a woman with a white hat walking around the neighborhood speaking with residents. Her demeanor makes her stand out from the crowd and her face is one not to forget. Her huge smile is enthusiastic and bright, and her eyes shine with great hope for the future. Her presence is one of compassion and persistence. She believes that personal contact with the people of Cleveland is the best way the develop a strong, trustworthy relationship during a political campaign. This charismatic woman was Albina Rose Cermak, who was raised on the city's West Side by a Republican father and her mother who was a suffragette. This house overlooked the downtown skyline and the beautiful Lake Erie.

From her home on Cliff Drive near Edgewater Park, Albina Cermak could behold the skyline of the city she hoped to govern. Cermak was the first woman to run for mayor of Cleveland. Other women had been mayors of mostly small towns in the United States before 1961, but Albina was the first woman to run for mayor in a major U.S. city since another in Seattle in the 1920s. Throughout her election race, Cermak often wore a white hat, which became one of her trademarks. Her opponent was Mayor Anthony Celebrezze, who had been in office since 1953. Cermak believed that Mayor Celebrezze was ill-suited to his position. Her campaign argued that his office had caused major damage to the city's economy. Cermak was running as a Republican in a largely Democratic city. In many ways she did not stand a chance to win the '61 elections, despite her progressive ideas during her campaign.

The aftermath of World War II brought heightened challenges as the "urban crisis" enveloped the once-prosperous industrial city. Unfortunately, Cleveland political and business leaders had failed to uplift the city. Cermak believed that City Hall was not reliable or responsive to the needs of Clevelanders. She promised that if elected this would change, by appointing responsible individuals. Her two most important ideas to improve Cleveland were to bring back industry and use better code enforcement to improve slum areas. Her other focuses were taking action on air and lake pollution and advocating for a more reliable transportation system that ran throughout the Greater Cleveland area.

Although her ideas were a great blueprint for improving Cleveland, they were not enough to win the election. Anthony Celebrezze dominated the vote in 1961. A number of factors help explain why Albina Cermak did not win the '61 election. Many of her ideas were ahead of her time. She was also campaigning during a time when very few women held a powerful political position. The media also influenced how the people viewed her. Some local newspapers promoted her campaign, while one editorialized that her campaign was laughable. Even though she would never be mayor, her actions during in the campaign were advanced and unforgettable.

Albina Cermak's 1961 mayoral campaign showed her love and devotion for her city. She would continue to run for political positions and be involved in many committees until her death in 1978. Her mayoral campaign may not have been a success, but it definitely was not a failure. Cermak paved the way for the women in Cleveland in the professional and political world. Almost forty years later, Jane Campbell not only ran for mayor of Cleveland, but was victorious in the election. Women like Albina Rose Cermak showed courage in breaking down barriers against women holding political and professional careers.