Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lucy Garner The Suffragette?


      Colonial American women had little or no voice in affairs outside the home, and very little even within it. Upon marriage, women became non-entities; they could not sign contracts, acquire property, or control any monies they might inherit or earn.  No woman could enter the professions, or college.  Even back then however, there were a few exceptions.  In 1756 Lydia Chapman Taft cast her ballot in Massachusetts, and New Jersey women of property were able to vote during that era due to a loophole in the state's election laws.  Unfortunately, after the declaration of independence from England American states began writing laws that specifically excluded women from the franchise.  In New York women lost the right to vote in 1777.  How paradoxical that a nation formed upon the premise of equality chose to deny the rights of almost half it's citizens.

     I would imagine that like myself, many of you who are pursuing your family's history have learned a bit about history in general during the process.  I was surprised to read about Lydia Taft and her Massachusetts vote, and I had formerly believed that the women's suffrage movement really didn't begin until after the Civil War; how wrong I was.  In the decades after the revolution women embraced it's concepts of, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".  Though few in number in those early years, social issues such as the temperance and abolitionist movements began to draw women into the public sphere.  It was only a matter of time before they realized their own freedom was also a goal worth fighting for.

     Still, the last thing I expected to find was a female ancestor of mine, living in an early 19th century farming community, being mentioned in election returns. Yet last evening, while checking the New York State Historic Newspapers site for the surname "Garner", I found the article below.  Most of the search results were for the verbs "garner" or "garnered", but this one article, dated 1831, was quite different.  In fact I read it twice just to be sure I was interpreting it correctly.  In November of that year, Lucy Garner received one vote for the office of county coroner!  In 1831!  In Cayuga County, New York!

Lucy's name by the red X

     I have no real explanation for this, but it's mentioned twice in the article--it's no typo.  Did Lucy really run for office? Was this someone's idea of a joke?  My husband's comment was, "she voted for herself".  Well, no she didn't--women could not vote in 1831.  Further research on early election laws revealed Lucy was likely what today would be termed a write in candidate, assuming she was in fact a candidate at all.  In the early part of the century, there really was no formal ballot; voters simply wrote the name of their favored candidate on a slip of paper and placed it in the box.  This mode of voting was followed by the use of pre-printed ballots distributed by the various political parties.  Each had their own color and was deposited in the box in full view of one's neighbors, not much privacy there.  It would not be until the end of the century (19th) that the secret ballot came to be the norm in the United States.

     I would dearly love to know who it was who voted for Lucy, and what their motivation was, but all my attempts to find more information about this have proven fruitless.  I don't know that she actually wanted the position of coroner, or that she actively solicited votes.  She certainly could not have expected to prevail.  Thirty five years later in 1866, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a close associate of Susan B. Anthony, would run for a seat in congress to highlight the absurdity of a woman's legal ability to run for office, while at the same time being ineligible to vote.  Maybe Lucy Garner did the same?


  1. I'd love to know what Lucy thought about it all and seeing her name in the newspaper.