In 1991 Theodore Livingston became the mayor of his town. In doing so he became the first Bahá’í (Bahai) in the U.S. to be the mayor of a town or city according to the Research Office of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States. This happened fully in accordance with Bahá’í teachings on non-involvement in partisan politics.
Ted was born in 1944, and grew up in Geneseo, Kansas. He accepted the Bahá’í Faith in 1971, soon after graduating from Fort Hays Kansas State University with a degree in psychology with emphasis in special education. In 1986 he obtained a master’s degree in special education.
After Fort Hays, Ted accepted a teaching position in Great Bend. There he met another teacher, Barbara McClellan, who also accepted the Bahá’í Faith. A year later they were married and moved eventually to Cottonwood Falls, where her elderly mother lived. Barbara retired and Ted found another teaching position.
After several years in Cottonwood Falls, Ted was asked by a member of the city council if he would fill a vacant seat on the council. In a town of that size everyone generally knows everyone else and Ted had become well respected. He was also honest and non-partisan, just what the town needed. Cottonwood Falls was being torn apart by dissension and conflict over the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve out of the former Z Bar Ranch, and a calm voice was sorely needed. Ted was that voice.
For eight years, he served as a moderating voice on the city council. His sincerity, non-confrontational and respectful manner won him wider respect, even when people didn’t agree with him. At a heated meeting of the city council in 1991, the mayor announced his resignation and walked out. The city clerk looked to Ted and said his position on the council was next in the line of succession. He was mayor by default.
He completed that term until the next city election when he was asked to run for the office of mayor, but refused. When it was suggested that others would file for him and conduct a write-in campaign, Ted said he could not control their actions, but would not align himself with a political party, nor would he be part of any election campaign. This is the position which Bahá’u’lláh enjoined upon His followers so as not to be involved in divisive activity. Ted watched the election proceedings with amused interest. The results put Ted far ahead of the other candidate who only received 16 votes!
During his two terms as mayor, the city weathered some of its most divisive conflict in recent memory. Ted’s calm voice was a sane and moderating influence. In 1994 cancer was discovered and two years later he died. His place in history is assured by being the first Bahá’í to be mayor of a town in the U.S.!
Entry: Livingston, Theodore
Author: Duane L. Herrmann
Author information: Herrmann has degrees in education and history from Fort Hays State University. He has published widely on the history of the Bahai faith with publications now in a dozen countries in four languages. His history book By Thy Strengthening Grace received the Ferguson, Kansas, History Book Award in 2007. He has actively studied the Bahai faith since 1969. dozen countries in four languages. His books are found in major libraries in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East. His history book, By Thy Strengthening Grace, received the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award in 2007. He has actively studied the Bahai faith since 1969.
Date Created: January 2014
Date Modified: February 2017
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.