How a 23-Year-Old from Idaho Became the Youngest Female Mayor in America
Photography: Elissa Kline
The youngest female mayor in America ponders her position in the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountain Range.
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Elk feeding is a hot topic at the Stanley, Idaho, town council meeting today. That, and the fact that a quarter of this small mountain town has just been put up for sale.
You’d never suspect that the young blue-eyed blonde with a ponytail and gold-colored nose ring driving up in her 1969 Ford pickup is the mayor who will run the meeting. In fact, Hannah Stauts, now 23, is the youngest female mayor in the United States. She was only 22 when she was elected, by a 39-31 vote, of the small populace of Stanley.
With the Sawtooth Mountains as magnificent backdrop, Stanley has only a small population of 100 hardy individuals who survive the challenging winters to earn the label “local.” But Stanley draws thousands of visitors every summer, who come to raft, hike, bike, fish, horseback ride or just enjoy the area’s beautiful rivers, mountains and lakes. And “Miss Mayor” (Stauts’ ‘MySpace’ moniker) needs to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“My first memory of Stanley was when I was four years old and rafted on an inflatable alligator down Valley Creek,” says Stauts. “I was christened by the river at a young age when I fell out into the rapids of the Payette River.” Her father is an outdoorsman, so the family, although living in Boise, spent many summers here rafting, hiking, fishing and camping.
Still, she did not grow up envisioning running the town. But then she got the civic government bug.
“The change started for me when I was 16. I applied probably younger than anyone else in Boise to a program called Youth Commissioners. It was an opportunity created by Mayor [Brent] Coles to have youth representatives appointed to various commissions in Boise. I had never been at a formal meeting before and all of a sudden I was appointed by the mayor to represent youth on the Arts Commission. It was an amazing experience. I learned how to speak well in front of a group, how to have my comments actually requested and regarded by a group of intelligent adults. I made some great connections with some really inspiring people and I liked having that civic involvement. It was fun. I think it made me feel important at a young age, feeling like my comments really meant something. That was really what started my involvement in things like that.”
“I felt the same thing about the role I held in club sports,” she continues. “In high school I was president of the ski racing club and then I continued that on into college. It was practicing and honing your leadership skills. Being able to see what a group of people, like my lacrosse team, wanted and help them get it. We wanted to go to a tournament in Oregon so I helped design a fund-raiser and we got to go. Being able to make things happen was the fun part.”
After graduating from Boise State University with a degree in political science and serving as an intern to the next Boise mayor, Stauts, like many graduates, was not sure what she wanted to do. During college summers, she had worked as a firefighter for the Forest Service in the Stanley area, so she decided to live in Stanley and continue that, at least for a while.
“My favorite part of the job is being outside. You spend every day outside in the woods and I loved it,” says Stauts with a smile. “The thing I really like is that I just got dirty. You wouldn’t shower for nine days and you’d be out on this fire with soot and ash and mud and dirt and you’d be sweaty and there’d be no showers. It was such a real experience just being out there in the woods and not having all these amenities that you’re used to. It’s just such a different experience that not a lot of people get to have.” >>>