Lydia Chapin Taft was the first woman to legally vote in New England.
The year was 1756, and the issue of taxation without representation was a hot concern in the American colonies. Boston minister James Mayhew was preaching about the injustice of British colonial rule in election year sermons that would give rise to the issue.
In the town of Uxbridge, Mass., meanwhile, the issue took on a more local tone. The town needed to raise funds to contribute to its defense in the French and Indian Wars. Voting was restricted to male landowners at the time. Uxbridge had just lost one of its largest property owners: Josiah Taft.
Josiah was a civic leader in Uxbridge, serving as a selectman and town moderator. In 1756, Caleb Taft – son of Josiah and Lydia – became sick while attending Harvard. When Caleb died, Josiah retrieved his body, and Josiah, too, soon fell ill and died.
Lydia Chapin Taft Casts a Vote
The town needed to select a new moderator, and it also needed to vote on whether to fund the ongoing war. Henry Chapin, a descendent of the Tafts, would later document in 1864 that the town took the unusual step of giving Lydia the right to vote at town meeting.
With her eldest surviving son Bezaleel not yet 10 years old, no male representative of the Taft’s large estate could vote the family interests. The town meeting, however, remedied this by asking Lydia to vote. She did, casting her vote to support the request for funding. And so the first recorded vote by a woman in Massachusetts occurred.
It would be more than 160 years and countless protests before all women could vote. The full reasoning behind the town of Uxbridge’s decision to ask Lydia to vote isn’t documented. Henry Chapin suggested, however, the spirit of “no taxation without representation” inspired the decision. But he also notes that her vote decided the issue, and perhaps her side needed her vote for political purposes.
Regardless, records show Lydia Taft appeared at least twice more at town meeting conducting her affairs: once to address tax issues and once to change the school district she was assigned.
This story updated in 2022.
I hope that is is documented— at least— that she did vote. Women were often giving rights such as these if they were clearly the family overseer —
Voting was dictated by property ownership in this period. Most people didn’t meet the requirement. Women of the eighteenth century worked, owned business and property, and participated in the political process. Rich people of both sexes were more educated, and middling and poor people worked more strenuous jobs. It was a different society to be sure but it is frequently misrepresented through a presentist lens of modern gender politics.
My ancestor!!! My mom was a ,Chapin.
My mom was a ,Chapin. Lydia is my ancestor
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