Title: Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, Spring 1993. Interview G-0188.
Interviewer: Clark, Jim
Interviewee: Cannon, Isabella
Abstract: Isabella Cannon was the first woman mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina. As part of the Raleigh Bicentennial Task Force oral history project, Cannon discusses talks about her community and political involvement in Raleigh over the course of the twentieth century. Originally born in Scotland in 1904, Cannon came to America with her family in 1916. Cannon first moved to Raleigh with her husband during the Great Depression because of his job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). She immediately sought to learn as much as she could about the history and culture of Raleigh. During this time, she and her husband were actively involved in the United Church of Christ, which she explains was very progressive in terms of its early advocacy for integration. In addition, Cannon was an active participant in community theater with the Raleigh Little Theater. She left Raleigh for a number of years when her husband was asked to head the fiscal planning for the Lend-Lease Program in Washington, D.C. Cannon worked intermittently as a statistician during these years and lived abroad with her husband in Liberia. After his retirement, they returned to the Raleigh area. After her husband's death, Cannon went to work for the North Carolina State Library for fifteen years, during which time she became increasingly involved in local politics. In the early 1970s, she actively campaigned for Jim Hunt's election as lieutenant governor. Then, in 1977, at the age of 73, Cannon campaigned to become the first woman mayor of Raleigh. The "little old lady in tennis shoes" describes her grassroots campaign against incumbent Jyles Coggins and the national and global press her election received. As mayor, Cannon was especially concerned with issues of affirmative action, the Long Range Comprehensive Plan to support the growth of Raleigh, reconciling tension between the city and the police and fire departments, strengthening the relationship between city and state, establishing parks, and revitalizing the downtown area.