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Massachusett’s Lydia Chapin Taft cast America’s first vote by a woman

Lydia Taft
Lydia Taft

On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The text of the amendment stated women now had the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, the amendment was ratified and became part of the country’s “law of the land”.

Women had begun to organize, petition and picket for voting rights during the 1800s. Though it would require decades of diligent effort on their part to see this become a reality, they were late to the trough if they hoped to be the first women to participate in an election. That event was already in the history books. In 1756, an early forerunner in Colonial America, Lydia Chapin Taft, had already been allowed to cast her vote during three town meetings.

Born on February 2, 1712 in Mendon, Massachusetts, Lydia Chapin was the daughter of Seth Chapin and Bethia Thurston. Her father served as a captain in the militia and was a highly respected member of the community. Lydia grew up on her father’s 45 acres with nine siblings near Post’s Lane Bridge and Mill River. The family moved into Mendon in 1715. Lydia was trained by her mother and grandmother in all the crafts needed to be a productive goodwife – child rearing, flax weaving, education, home economics and farming. In 1727, the town of Uxbridge was incorporated using acreage from the western portion of Mendon.

On December 28, 1731, Lydia Chapin became the bride of Josiah Taft in Mendon’s Congregational Church. Josiah’s father, Daniel, was a local squire and Justice of the Peace. The couple settled in Uxbridge and as Lydia set up housekeeping, Josiah began his trek towards becoming one of the community’s largest landowners. Between the years of 1733 and 1753, seven children were added to the family. In time, the Tafts were numbered among Uxbridge’s wealthiest families.

With enrollment in the military compulsory for young men, Josiah entered the Uxbridge militia as an ensign, rising to the rank of captain within a few years. He was also chosen on a number of occasions to represent Uxbridge on important matters in the town meetings of neighboring settlements, in addition to the General Court.

While a student at Harvard, Josiah and Lydia’s 18 year old son, Caleb, became ill and died on September 19, 1756. After traveling to Boston to bury Caleb, Josiah returned home and became ill himself a short time later; then died on September 30th. The death of 47 year old Josiah occurred just prior to an important vote regarding how the town would finance the French and Indian War.

At this time in history, the only individuals allowed to vote were free men who were property holders. With the estate Josiah left behind valued as one of the largest in the area, and the fact his oldest surviving son was still a minor, a door now opened which offered Lydia a unique opportunity.

On October 30, 1756, the townspeople of Uxbridge voted to allow Lydia Taft, Josiah’s widow, to vote as his proxy, out of respect for the large contribution Josiah had made to the town. When she did so, the records initially listed her as 'widow Josiah Taft'. Eventually, Lydia’s name was added to the history books as being the first woman in America to vote. She would participate in two more of Uxbridge’s elections, during 1758 and 1765.

Fifty years after the death of 65-year old Lydia Chapin Taft on November 9, 1778, a Quaker by the name of Abby Kelley picked up the mantel of women’s suffrage and passed it on to two others, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone.

On April 1, 2004, the Massachusetts legislature recognized Lydia Chapin Taft’s historic vote by naming the Uxbridge portion of State Route 146A, stretching from Uxbridge to the Rhode Island border, as “Lydia Taft Highway”.

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