Friday, March 4, 2011

Cavendish Semiquincentennial: Women’s Role in Town Meeting

In 1880 Vermont women finally begin to see change with a new law passed by the legislature giving tax-paying women the right to vote and hold office in school districts. With the establishment of the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association (later changed to the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association) in 1883, a statewide organization now existed and continued to push for female suffrage. The efforts of group members like Annette Parmelee and her determination guaranteed that the woman suffrage issue would remain a much debated topic in the newspapers and legislature. Efforts further paid off in 1900 with the passage of a law allowing women to serve as town treasurers, town librarians, and notaries public.

By 1917, support could no longer be contained and Vermont women gained the right to vote in municipal elections, providing the turning point for women to implement real change across the state. The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 gave Vermont women and their sisters nationally full suffrage in state and national elections and also the right to serve in local and national governments. Women in VT Politics; During and Post Suffrage 1840-1940 from the Vermont Women’s History Project

Barbara Kingsbury’s book “Chubb Hill Farm and Cavendish, Vermont: A Family and Town History” relates how Cavendish women were viewed in 1912. “Although the ladies had their own groups and participated fully in the Grange and Farmers’ Club activities with the men, they did not go to the Town Meetings. A 1922 newspaper article in the history of the Sunshine Society, commented that, “In 1912 when the ladies presumed to bring some sunshine into the annual town meeting some of the old guard among the men grumbled at the intrusion and would have none of it. A compromise was effected wherein the ladies might spread their luncheon in the gallery if they would screen off their view of the men below. But that first meal was enough to make the Sunshine dinner welcome at every Town Meeting since…”

It is interesting to note that while there are fewer women in the Vermont Legislator, those that do run have a higher chance of winning then their male counterparts. In 1921, there was one woman in the house and none in the Senate. Today, 36.6% (11) of the Senate is comprised of women (one of whom is Alice Nitka for Windsor County) and 38.6% (58) of the House. In Cavendish, we have no women on the Select Board and only one on the Cavendish Town Elementary School Board.

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