By SHERIDAN ROY
With the month of March being women’s history month, along with the town of Plainville’s 150th anniversary coming up this summer, the Plainville Historical Society hosted a presentation on March 23 celebrating Plainville’s rich history of women in politics, government and public policy.
“We always try to do a program centered on women’s history during the month of March,” explained historical society co-president and speaker Rosemary Morante. Last year, a speaker was invited to discuss women’s roles in government and politics, but on a broader scale. “We thought, wouldn’t it be neat to do a program equivalent to that, but focused just on Plainville?”
Morante implemented the help of several town resources including the library, town clerk, historical society records and more to bring the audience through Plainville women’s influence from the 1800s through the present. She focused on four movements that changed the nation: abolition and antislavery, temperance, educational reform and women’s suffrage.
Harriet Hotchkiss Norton was a known abolitionist in town. She and husband John Calvin Norton “worked as a team, and were very much committed,” said Morante. In 1995, their home on E. Main Street, a station on the underground railroad, was recognized and added to the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
The sale of alcohol in Plainville “was a hot topic,” Morante said, and women were at the forefront of the temperance movement. The Plainville chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union formed in 1974, with over 100 members when the total town population was less than 2000.
Temperance was highly debated in Plainville, and each year, a vote was held on giving liquor licenses to businesses, overturning often. In 1911, the Plainville WCTU erected a temperance fountain at the site where the Town Hall currently stands. Without public drinking water, some people thought that it would lead to a rise in drinking alcohol instead of water. The temperance fountain was erected to deter that.
In the early 1890s, a group of women organized to add Kindergarten to Broad Street School and ultimately were successful. And, in 1893, Connecticut passed a law allowing women to vote on school committees. By 1894, there were 376 Plainville women registered to vote, compared to 476 men registered in town.
That same year, Plainville native Mary G. Clark became the first woman elected to the board of school visitors, followed by Alice Ryder in 1896 and Minnie Pierce in the late 1890s.
In 1914, a women’s club began efforts to spearhead a new public library, hosting several fundraisers. Bertha Wheeler was a leader in the women’s club. The library was dedicated in 1931.
The ratification of the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. It became law on Sept. 20 in Connecticut. Between Oct. 9 and Oct. 19, Morante found that 407 Plainville women registered to vote.
Notable women elected to local office in Plainville include: May Morgan (first female town clerk), Helen Brock (library committee), Loretta Millerick (registrar of voters), Helen Loy (first town councilor; previous first woman chair of the board of education) Sophia Brown (first African American board of education member) and Liz Zembrowski (first council chair).
Morante said since 1977, the town council has had at least one woman serving. And, in 2001, women were the majority of the council. Currently, all three elected boards in Plainville (town council, board of education and library board) are chaired by women, and both the Democratic and Republican town committees are chaired by women.
Five notable Plainville women have represented the town at the state level. Clara Pratt was the first woman representative, elected in 1950. After Pratt, Plainville natives Gertrude Koskoff, Nora Powers, Pauline Kezer and Betty Boukus all served as state representatives.
Women in Plainville have been instrumental in many social movements and have earned their place in history.
To learn more about Plainville’s 150 year history, visit the Plainville Historical Society at 29 Pierce St. Call (860) 747-6577 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Events, activities and other information can be found on the Plainville Historical Society Facebook page.