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Betty Jo Charlton

Charlton, Betty Jo (2)

Betty Jo Charlton (June 15, 1923 – July 22, 2014) was born and raised in rural Reno County, along with two sisters and a brother, by Joseph and Elma Canning. Their self sufficient family farm provided so they didn’t need FDR subsidies during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Her mother taught them all to play piano. She moved to Lawrence to attend KU and was employed by Glenn Charlton at the Charlton Insurance Agency. She met his son Robert as he returned from serving in WWII. They were married and had two sons, John and Richard. During those years she became the first woman in Lawrence to gain a pilot license, raised horses for the American Royale, and taught Western Civ at KU for James Seaver.  She also became active in local politics and shaped the Douglas County Democratic Party. She became the first woman State Legislator from Lawrence in 1979 and served until retiring in 1994. She was Senior Minority member on the Appropriations Committee. She spent later years traveling abroad and died in her home at 1624 Indiana Street at age 91. She is survived by her sons and two grand-daughters, Sarah and Holly Charlton. The family wishes donations in her name be made to the Douglas County Democratic Party

Article from the Lawrence Journal World

Betty Jo Charlton, the first woman state legislator from Lawrence, died Tuesday. She was 91.

Charlton served in the Kansas House from 1980 through 1994 and was active in the Douglas County Democratic Party. While in the Legislature, she was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

“She was a mentor to a lot of people,” said state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence. Ballard said Charlton organized the annual pre-legislative session meeting between representatives of local groups and the Douglas County legislative delegation. Ballard coordinates that meeting now and said that for years she would hear from Charlton after Charlton read about the meeting in the newspaper. “She always made the comment that, ‘I saw you had your annual meeting.’ Betty Jo’s approval meant everything to me because she invested a lot of time in me. If she was proud of me, I was happy,” Ballard said. State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said Charlton was a model public servant that all elected officials should follow. “Betty Jo was beloved by her constituents because she paid attention to them and responded when they called, visited or wrote her,” Sloan said.  State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said of Charlton, “Betty Jo lived a full life and enjoyed keeping up on Kansas politics after she left the Legislature. She gave me a lot of good advice through the years. During her tenure in the Legislature, Betty Jo was a strong advocate for Lawrence, KU and the people of the 46th District.”


And from KU

The Hon. Betty Jo
Betty Jo Charlton
  • Distinguished career as a legislator in the Kansas House of Representatives
  • Advocate for women and children long before it was ‘politically correct’
  • One of first women to enter the KU School of Engineering

The Honorable Betty Jo Charlton was one of the first women to enter the school of engineering, in the late 1940s.  Although her education was interrupted by marriage and children, she never gave up.  It was twenty-some years later she obtained not only her BA, but also her MA.  Furthermore, she held a long, distinguished career as a legislator in the Kansas House of Representatives.  According to her nominator, Jenifer Dodd, former Legislative Intern, “I came to learn a great deal about our government under her direction.  However, that education pales in comparison with what she taught me about integrity of character, perseverance and civic virtue.” 

Charlton’s tenure in the legislature brought praise from many former colleagues.  Kansas Governor and former Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius said of Ms. Charlton, “during her entire public service career, [she] was an advocate for women and children, and brought their voices and concerns to the policy table long before it was ‘politically correct.’  She just knew it was the right thing to do.”  Former State Representative John Solbach asserted the honoree “gained the respect of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  She exhibited high standards of intellectual honesty in seeking to affect good public policy as a legislator, educator, and citizen.”  Former Mayor of the City of Lawrence Marci Francisco said of the recipient, “hearing her talk makes me pause and think about what really is the most appropriate and responsible way to act.”  Former State Representative Forrest Swall states, “In a very quiet, modest way [she] has had an impact on Lawrence, Douglas County, and the state.  I came to appreciate her extraordinary competence as a legislator, student of Kansas history, and advocate for social justice.”  Distinguished Professor Emeritus Francis Heller noted Rep. Charlton “was a constant and reliable defender of the University’s interests and concerns.  The state, the city, and the University owe her a great deal.”

Charlton’s years of teaching, first as a paid GTA and then for 14 years as a volunteer, garnered high praise from former Western Civilizations Director, Professor of History Emeritus James E. Seaver.  “She was admired for her excellence as a teacher, her academic integrity, her willingness to work with her students, and her ability to promote interesting discussions.”  Gene Budig, former Chancellor of the University of Kansas, wrote of the honoree, “[she] was ahead of her time.  [She] spoke out, in a forceful manner, for the rights of women.  Fairness and action were her legislative themes.  She always asked the tough question at the right time.  She accepted reasonable answers, if they provided hope.”

Charlton was inducted into the Kansas University Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997. In the late 1940s, she was one of the first women to enter the School of Engineering. Her education was interrupted by marriage and children, but more than 20 years later she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.


  1. David Wescoe on July 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Betty Jo was the Den Mother of my Cub Scout Pack in the 1960s, and I’ve never forgotten her. She was a very special person who has touched hundreds of lives all for the better, including mine. My thought are with her family.

  2. Carolyn Treadway on July 26, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I am pleased to know a little more about the amazing life your mother had. Women like her blazed the trail for gender equality and raised the political consciousness. Jay and I send our deepest sympathy as you grieve the loss of a life well-lived.

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