Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

1880, Feb. 16. I sent a note to Mr. Swan this morning to ask about the power that I may have to vote for school officers and the ask where I must register, what tax I must pay, etc. I also suggested to Dr. Webster to write to another of our Trustees. They may rule us out as citizens but we have lived for years within the precincts of some town. . . It is possible that we must hold real estate in the town, but I know that my Father voted although he did not even pay a poll tax.

Here, Maria is likely referring to a Vassar College trustee and also an attorney, who served as the attorney and legal adviser to Matthew Vassar. But what is of most interest is that Maria is trying to figure out how she might vote – not for Vassar College officers, but Poughkeepsie school board members. (Dr. Webster was then Vassar’s resident physician, having replaced Dr. Alida Avery.) This journal entry followed upon the heels of Maria’s younger sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, being voted in as the first woman to serve on the Cambridge Massachusetts School Board along with another woman, Sarah P. Jacobs, in December 1879. It was the first time that women were allowed to vote for a political office in Cambridge and the two were the first women to hold any office in Cambridge. In fact, women were allowed to vote for school board members throughout Massachusetts – think about how that came about. Maria seized on this accomplishment of her sister’s and the fact that women could vote for school boards in Massachusetts, hoping to make some changes in New York – or at least Poughkeepsie. She also likely felt that this would help to support not just education but girls and women in education and further, women’s higher education i.e. college.

JNLF