A crucial moment in American history came in women’s suffrage. The economic and political reform movement aimed at creating equal rights for women and men, specifically the right to vote. With the 19th Amendment in 1920 women received voting rights after a long fought political battle. But, what few know is that some women had voted prior to 1920. The first dated back to the eighteenth century.
Lydia Chapin was born on February 2, 1712 in Mendon, Massachusetts which became Uxbridge in 1727. At the age of nineteen she married Josiah Taft in December of 1731. Josiah was a prominent member of Uxbridge. He was a landowner, became a local official and Massachusetts legislator, and served numerous terms as a member of the Board of Selectman as the town clerk and moderator, presiding over open town meetings. Lydia, Josiah, and their five surviving children were among the wealthiest families in Uxbridge and the largest taxpayers.
In the fall of 1756, their oldest son Caleb became very ill. While attending Harvard he died that September. Josiah became sick himself after going to Boston to bury their son, and died after returning home. His death occurred directly before an important vote was to take place in the town’s decision to support the French and Indian War effort. Given Josiah’s status in Uxbridge and the wealthy estate now run by Lydia the townspeople voted to include Lydia in the voting at the important meeting.
She received Josiah’s vote, becoming the first woman in the United States to legally vote. Lydia voted in an official New England open town meeting on October 30, 1756, preceding women’s suffrage by 164 years. She voted two other times, once in 1758 and the other in 1765. Lydia died on November 9, 1778 two years after the U.S. declared independence.
Women’s suffrage forever changed the United States. It was a leading step in the acceptance of equal status among men and women.