Filed Under Biography

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.

Images

Albina Rose Cermak, ca. 1960 This photo was taken while Albina Cermak was U.S. Collector of Customs for Cleveland. She was appointed to this position by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Both Cermak and Eisenhower believed it was important that both political parties played a role in American government. Cermak held this position until 1961, when she decided to run for mayor of Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Slum Conditions in Hough, 1955 Many white middle-class families left their homes in the city and moved to the suburbs after World War II. Many of these houses fell into the hands of slumlords, who allowed the buildings to rot and decay. Many of the families living in these slums were African Americans who did not have the income to afford better housing. Albina Cermak wanted to have better regulations on how the slumlords managed their property. If housing was not properly maintained, then the Landlords would be fined. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Cleveland Press Question Box, 1961 The Cleveland Press held a couple of "question boxes" for Albina Cermak during the mayoral election race. This one stated what her main topics of focus would be if she were elected mayor. Many of the articles written the Press during the election took her campaign seriously. The Plain Dealer, on the other hand, did not take Cermak's mayoral race as seriously. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Women Enduring Air Pollution, 1946 Mrs. Stephanie Nowak (3711 W. 13th) and Mrs. Nettie Nowak (1318 Redmond Ave.) cover their faces to protect themselves from the fumes of the valley under the Harvard-Denison Bridge. This photo shows that air pollution was a major problem that had developed before Cermak's campaign. Since her house overlooked Lake Erie and downtown Cleveland, Miss Cermak bore witness daily to the destruction water and air pollution had caused. Industrial factories were a key cause of both air and water pollution in Cleveland. Although it was a topic that had been discussed periodically for decades, few politicians were willing to take on big industry. Cermak promised that if she were mayor, she would have old factory buildings renovated to meet cleaner standards. New factories would have to be built under stricter regulations to ensure less toxins would be released into the air and water. This issue of concern depicts how progressive she was. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
John Galbreath and Mayor Celebrezze, ca. 1960 Mayor Celebrezze and John W. Galbreath discuss the Erieview Project. At the time it was developed, Erieview was trumpeted as a great accomplishment in urban renewal. However, it only focused on the business district of Cleveland, and slums still grew in surrounding neighborhoods. Later on, many people considered Erieview to be a failure to the city. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Touring the Cleveland Harbor, 1958 Customs Collector Alina Cermak, shown here in 1958 with U.S. Senator John W. Bricker (center) and Port Director W. J. Rogers (right), tours the Cuyahoga River to view harbor improvements funded with federal spending. Cleveland's industry was hard hit after the Second World War. The unemployment rate increased significantly as factories moved out of Cleveland. The St. Lawrence Seaway, completed the following year, connected all the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Cermak believed that the shipping channel and Lake Erie could bring more employment opportunities to the city. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Mari Deinhart, “Albina R. Cermak,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 23, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/681.