By Beacon Staff
Elaine Baxter was a strong Burlington woman.
But that didn’t completely define her. Nor did her long list of impressive accomplishments, which included becoming the first woman to serve on the Burlington City Council and the third woman to become Iowa’s Secretary of State.
Baxter, who died over the weekend at the age of 88, could best be encapsulated by her kindness and humility.
Born in Chicago on Jan. 16, 1933, Baxter’s parents, Clarence and Margaret Bland, were maintenance workers at the rooming house where the family lived.
Baxter attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she met her future husband, Harry Baxter. She earned a master’s degree in urban planning, with specialization in historical preservation, from the University of Iowa. She later moved to Washington, D.C., during Jimmy Carter’s administration to work as a congressional liaison in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Baxter was elected Burlington's first city councilwoman in 1973, and was the third woman to serve as Iowa's Secretary of State, from 1987 to 1995. She lost her run for Burlington mayor in 1975.
“For the first time, I encountered real resistance to a woman running for mayor," she said in a 2016 interview. "My workers would go out and do door knocking with my brochures, and people would take the brochure, tear it up and say, ‘I’m not voting for no woman.’"
Baxter was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and 1992, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Iowa in 1988, and a candidate for U.S. Representative in 1992 and 1994. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack appointed her to the Humanities Iowa board of directors, and she joined the Iowa Lottery Board in 2002.
In 2016, Baxter was named "Outstanding Elected Official" by the Iowa Democratic Party. She even met with for Hillary Clinton at a Burlington home when Clinton was running for the presidential nomination.
"I was a great admirer of Hillary Clinton. She didn't back off; she was a very strong woman," Baxter said in an interview last year. "She called and asked me to support her and said, ‘You're one of the pioneers that I look up to.’ I said I never thought of myself as a pioneer before. She said, ‘Well, you are.’"
It wasn’t just Clinton. Baxter hosted many prominent politicians over the decades, including Vice President Walter Mondale, Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, among others.
Funeral arrangements for Baxter are pending through Prugh Funeral Service in Burlington.