ON THIS DAY: January 4, 1988, Sophie Masloff becomes President of Pittsburgh City Council

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — On Jan. 4, 1988, Sophie Masloff became the first woman to serve as president of Pittsburgh’s city council. Masloff would go on to become one of the most well-liked mayors in the city’s history.

Born Sophie Friedman on Dec. 23, 1917, she grew up poor in the Hill District, the daughter of Romanian immigrants. She had three siblings and only spoke Yiddish until starting elementary school. Masloff graduated in 1935 from Fifth Avenue High School and began working as a secretary in several county government jobs.

Within three years, Masloff became the minute clerk in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, supervising jury selections. She held the position for 38 years.

On Feb. 9, 1939, she married Jack Masloff, who worked as a salesman and security guard. The couple eloped to Wheeling, WV, taking Sophie’s brother and sister-in-law along as witnesses.

The couple was conflicted because Jack was of draft age and World War II loomed, but the county office where Sophie worked had a policy at that time that women employees had to quit once they married. So they eloped and did not reveal their marriage until after Jack returned from a three-year stint as a U.S. Navy Seabee in the South Pacific.

The couple soon added a daughter to their family, Linda Busia of Carnegie.

Masloff became active in the Democratic Party and served as a delegate at every Democratic convention from 1960 to 2004.

Masloff won a seat on the Pittsburgh City Council in a special election in 1976. She earned reelection in 1977, 1981 and 1985.

Four months after her election as president of the city council, Mayor Richard Caliguiri, 56, died in office. According to the city charter, the city council president is first in the line of succession.

“This is such a sad personal occasion for me,” she said in her inauguration address. “To become mayor as the result of the tragic death of Mayor Caliguiri causes me great sorrow.”

In May 1988, Masloff, the daughter of Romanian-Jewish immigrants, became the city’s first female and first Jewish mayor.

Masloff ran unopposed and was elected to her first full four-year term as mayor in 1989.

While in office, Masloff carried on work started under the Caliguiri administration, supporting Pittsburgh’s transformation from a steel making center to a corporate and service-oriented region.

Masloff supported the idea of having separate stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers, which became a reality years after she left office. In 2007, the corner of West General Robinson and Federal streets near PNC Park was named Sophie Masloff Way.

Jack Masloff, a diabetic who was in poor health following several heart attacks, died in 1991 of heart failure. Sophie Masloff was traveling to Harrisburg when she was alerted of his deteriorating condition by staff at the Heritage-Shadyside Nursing Home. She immediately turned around but arrived shortly after his death. They were married 52 years.

Masloff stepped down as mayor after making the decision not to run for a second term in 1993.

In the years following, Masloff served as a trustee of Allegheny County Community College, as a member of the Stadium Authority and as a board member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Center of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, among other civic organizations.

During her lifetime, she received numerous awards: being named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania was among those honors.

Masloff died of natural causes on Aug. 17, 2014, at the age of 96.

“Sophie Masloff personified Pittsburgh. She was kind and approachable, but you dared not underestimate her,” Mayor William Peduto said in a statement. “Like so many of those who built our city, she was self-made, the daughter of immigrants, and civic-minded. She committed herself to public life for decades, rising from a teenage political leader to the top of Pittsburgh government as the city’s first female mayor.” Peduto went on to call Masloff “a trailblazer camouflaged in grace and humor.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said of Masloff: “She served this community for many years and in many ways. Her passion and love for Pittsburgh was exemplified in all she did. Coming out of the Great Depression, Sophie saw numerous changes in Pittsburgh. She was a part of many of these changes and was the leader that this community needed.”