Her good standing in the community, as well as the fact that the local council wouldn't allow her to install an electric sign on her restaurant, eventually led to Stanford's political ambitions. A momentous 1970 press photo captures just how far her reputation had come in two decades in Sausalito. The caption reads: “Sally Stanford, nails up sign boosting her candidacy... in this upper middle class... suburb. Lamenting 'a general breakdown in morals,' the retired madam of San Francisco’s best known bordello is running for city council—with the support of local women’s clubs.”
It took Stanford five attempts to win a seat, but she was dogged in her determination to win, once noting, "We sinners never give up." Once in office, she successfully held onto her position, and her ongoing popularity led to her being elected mayor in 1976. After her decision to retire in 1980, in a beautiful gesture, the council insisted on naming her "Vice Mayor For Life."
In the end, Sally Stanford was married five times, adopting two children, John Owen and Hara "Sharon" Owen, along the way. She had at least four different aliases, and lived according to her own moral and social codes. It speaks to her character and personality that they successfully endeared her to almost everyone she encountered. "Morality," she once wrote, “is just a word that describes the current fashion of conduct.”
After her death in 1982 of a heart attack (she had, quite remarkably, survived 11 previous ones and a bout of colon cancer), flags around town, as well as on the Sausalito ferry, were flown at half-mast in her honor. Today, a life-size bust of Stanford is still present in Sausalito's visitor center, and a water fountain at the town's ferry landing instructs visitors to "HAVE A DRINK ON SALLY."
Stanford is best remembered for her indomitable spirit and seemingly invincible ability to always come out on top. “If you are being run out of town," she once said, "get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade.”
For stories on other Rebel Girls from Bay Area History, click here.