Lucille Pattison

This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women's suffrage, other articles here:

DUTCHESS COUNTY WOMEN: THE LONG ROAD TO ELECTED OFFICE

Written and Delivered by

Dutchess County Executive Lucille P. Pattison at the Local History Conference on Hudson Valley Women, a Tradition of Service and Courage April 28, 1984.

Lucille P. Pattison (1936 to 2013) became active in the League of Women Voters and Planned Parenthood in the 1960s and in 1973 was elected to the Dutchess County Legislature from Hyde Park. Re-elected in 1975 and 1977, she served as Minority Leader and then Majority Leader. In 1978 she won a special election for Dutchess County Executive, the first woman in New York State to hold the office. She was re-elected in 1979, 1983, and 1987.  She retired in 1991, undefeated in any of her races for office.

LPattison Montage

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank the Dutchess County Board of Elections for providing the original canvass books for the data used in this paper. I am indebted to Michael P. Murphy, my Assistant, for gathering the data from the canvass books, a time-consuming task which made it possible for me to write this paper.

Eleanor Roosevelt, in this her centennial year, is being remembered for many accomplishments, as a remarkable native of our County—respected throughout the nation, loved through­out the world. So far as I know, however, she never sought or perhaps even thought about running for elected office. Today, I would like to explore a world that perhaps had little appeal to Eleanor Roosevelt for herself: elected office, specifically, Dutchess County women who have run for public office. Who were they? Why did they run? Why did they win? Why did they lose? What patterns, if any, emerge?

I've not found the answers to all of these questions, but I'd like to share with you some of what I have learned. I would also like to tell you what I haven't learned, in the hopes that someone will continue this study.

As I began the project, I soon found that there is no easy access to all source materials: That which I do have is incom­plete. The data for this paper comes from the records at the Dutchess County Board of Elections.

Universal suffrage came to the United States in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In the State of New York, however, women were granted the right to vote in 1917.

It was my intention to begin the search of the records in 1917, assuming that only qualified electors had the right to hold elected office. The research in the early years was quickly thwarted, however, since the Board of Elections records before 1927 were destroyed as a result of a fire. Presumably, the ten year history prior to 1927 is available through local town hall records, County Clerk's office, through the daily newspapers of those years, and even through memories of a few living people. I suspect some are here today. I urge that someone undertake that research.

The Board of Elections records from 1927 to present are the annual canvass of elections for national, state, county and city offices. Town office canvasses are spotty until 1937; those records are available, if at all, in local town halls. (Village elections are not a part of this study.)

This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women's suffrage, other articles here:

This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women's suffrage, other articles here:

This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women's suffrage, other articles here:

What, then, can be learned about women running for public office from the official annual canvass? Surprisingly, many Dutchess County women have run for public office over the last 50 years.

From 1927 through 1929, and 1930, there is no record of any woman's name on the ballot for city, county, state office or United States Congress.

Finally, in 1931, two women's names appeared: Ethel S. Brasseit, Socialist Party candidate, ran as Surrogate Judge, apparently the first woman to seek a County office. 215 brave souls cast their votes for Ms. Brasseit out of 18,847 cast. The same year in the City of Poughkeepsie, one Mary E. Ryan, a Republican, lost to William J. Lane, (592 to 915). The seat was for the 3rd Ward Supervisor.

In 1932, [two]* women ran:

For State Senate, Ethel S. Brasseit, Socialist, ran again making an even poorer showing than in 1931. She took only 152 votes.

For State Assembly, Helen G. Estelle, Liberal, ran against C. Fred Close in his first victory.

The next woman candidate was two years later, 1934, when Florence Kelly, a Democrat, ran as Commissioner of Public Wel­fare. (Receiving 7,152 - 20,581) (Flo Kelly, my friend, is still active in East Fishkill and I salut her today.)

Two years later in 1936, Martha Koopman, Socialist, ran for Assembly (328 - 25,007)and Hazel Veith, Liberal-Socialist, ran for County Treasurer (201 - 25,007). In 1937, Martha Koopman, Socialist, again ran for the Assembly (77 - 23,313).

Still, no women winners in County, State and National contests. However, 1937 marked the first year the Board of Elections started keeping the canvass for town elections.

What becomes apparent is that women were running for office, and that they were winning; however, the offices they were seeking were "women's offices”: town clerk, tax collector, and an office called school director.

In 1937, in Beekman and LaGrange, women won as town clerk and tax collector. Other women ran, and lost, in East Fishkill, Fishkill, Hyde Park, North East, Pawling, Red Hook, Rhinebeck. Unopposed women ran in Union Vale, town clerk, Wappinger, tax collector. Perhaps not surprisingly, when women won, they defeated other women or they were unopposed. When women ran against men, even when the men were Democrats (e.g., Rhinebeck and Red Hook) in this heavily Republican County, the women lost.

In the 1939 local elections, the pattern of 1937 held.

Women could beat women in the "women's offices", but they couldn't defeat men.

By the way, in the 1938 State elections, a woman Amer­ican Labor Socialist candidate, Clara Rogers, ran and took 602 votes out of 22,418 cast.

What about the 1940’s?

In State offices, women simply did not run. None are identified in the canvass books for the entire decade.

In County offices, Democrat and American Labor candidate Dorothy Bourne was defeated for Commissioner of Public Welfare. The year was 1940 and she lost.(14,426 - 38,044). In 1949, another Democrat, Katherine Brown, lost (again) for Commissioner of Public Welfare.(10,722 - 20,161).

In 1944, for U.S. Congress, Sharon J. Mauhs, Democratic and American Labor Party candidate, took 20,631 votes out of 56,152 cast. Her opponent was Hamilton Fish, Sr.

In 1945, the first woman County Clerk candidate appeared. She was a Democrat named Dorothy G. Postver, but she lost by better than 2 to 1 (12,618 out of 38,203).

In the 1940's local elections, nearly 100 women sought office, slightly more of them Democrats than Republicans. The pattern of the 1930's held with some exceptions which should be noted.

Added to the local offices women were seeking was that of town assessor. Amenia led the way in 1944 when Mary Chapman ran unopposed. She was re-elected as a Democrat in 1945 and Elena Massee, Democrat, was elected in Dover. There were losers in Fishkill and Pine Plains.

In Beacon, Lillian M. Hassett, Democrat, perhaps the first woman to run in that city, lost as Commissioner of Safety; the year was 1949. (1,532 - 2,306).

In the City of Poughkeepsie, American Labor candidates for alderman in the 6th and 7th Wards ran, but received few votes.

The first female Justice of the Peace, a Republican, ran in Clinton. The year was 1949 and she lost.

The same year, Sarah P. Taylor, Democrat, later to become Mayor of Fishkill, was defeated as Fishkill Supervisor and, in Stanford, a Democratic Council candidate lost.

Nearly 100 women ran in the 1940's. When women won, they defeated other women. There were, however, 8 exceptions where women actually defeated men:

Hyde Park Democratic Clerk Gladys Brower (later re-elected)
Wappingers Republican Clerk Edith Tanner Amenia Democratic Assessor Mary Chapman, noted previously
LaGrange Republicans Elizabeth Wade and Blanche Thompson
Poughkeepsie Town Democratic Tax Collector Margaret Budd, (later re-elected)
Clinton Republican Tax Collector Gertrude Cunningham
Dover Democratic Town Clerk Mary Bates Poughkeepsie Democratic Town Clerk Anne K. Rogers,(later re-elected)

I salute these women for they truly opened the door for other women to run and win on their own merit.

In the 1950's, over 160 women ran for office. Virtually all ran for the traditional town offices. No woman ran for Congress nor, as in the 1940's, for State Senate or Assembly.

For County offices, there was a Commissioner of Public Welfare candidate in 1952 on the American Labor Party who garnered 114 votes. Democrat Edna K. Silber ran for the same office in 1955 with 13,484 votes; her opponent has 22,036.

In 1956, Anne K. Rogers ran as County Treasurer, the first woman to seek that position. While she received 22,564 votes, her male opponent received 44,550.

In town elections, there was the emergence of more women running for Supervisor: Democrats in Pine Plains, East Fishkill, Fishkill, and an Independent in LaGrange. None won. Two Demo­cratic candidates sought to be Council members. They also lost.

During World World II, Mrs. T. Mahar was appointed Town Supervisor for her husband who was in the service. She became the First Female Supervisor though not elected.

Curiously, while many more women ran for and held office in the 1950's than the 1940's, the emerging pattern of women de­feating men reversed itself. In the 1940's, 10% of the victorious women defeated men; in the 1950's only 3% defeated men. Women defeated women but faired very poorly in contests against men.

The 1960's demonstrated fewer changes than one might have expected.

A Conservative woman did run against two men in the 1966 Congressional race in which Joseph Resnick defeated challenger, Hamilton Fish, Jr.

Once again in the 60's, as in the 40's and SO's, no women ran for the State Senate or Assembly.

For County-wide offices, again there were women Democratic candidates for Commissioner of Public Welfare and County Clerk. They were still unsuccessful.

The most significant election was for the 1967 newly­ created County Board of Representatives where Republican Jean Murphy was the first victorious woman. The Board of Represen­tatives had replaced the old Board of Supervisors as the County's legislative body. Apparently, no woman had ever been elected to the former body.

The City of Poughkeepsie saw the 1969 election of Louise Stark as 2nd Ward Alderman, probably the first woman to hold that office.

While there were over 200 women office-seekers in the 1960's, considering the remarkable growth in the population of the County, the number of women seeking office remained propor­tionately about the same. There were actually fewer women supervisor candidates and only one Town Justice candidate, Re­ publican Caroline McEnroe from Amenia, who was successful, a first for the County.

As in previous decades, women ran in "women's offices" and women defeated women. 60's women improved their performance against men during the 1950's, but still failed to reach the 10% of the 1940’s.

The decade of the 1970's, as one would anticipate, experi­enced the most dramatic changes for women office-seekers. I have concluded that the trend in Dutchess County reflected changes that were taking place throughout the nation. I would venture to guess, however, that Dutchess was more than a re­ flection of a national trend, Dutchess has been the leader.

Let's look at the data.

Some things stayed the same. No Dutchess County women sought state or federal offices. In the "women's offices"-­ town clerk and tax collector--women continued to succeed in races against other women; they continued to lose when con­ fronted with male opponents.

Twice women ran for County Clerk and lost; twice women ran for City Mayor and lost.

There were changes from previous decades that merit exami­nation.

First, the number of women office-seekers increased to 365--the highest number had been about 200, during the previous decade.

In the races where women were pitted against men, women won in 16% of the races. The previous high had been 10% in the 1940’s. But more interesting than the percentage are the kinds of races where women defeated men.

In three County-wide  elections, women defeated men. In three supervisors  races, a woman defeated men. In 14 instances, female Councilmen  or Aldermen defeated men. In 18 elections,

County Legislature women defeated men. All of these offices had been almost exclusively the domain of men.

Also to be noted is that in these so-called "men's offices", more women challenged. 41 County Legislature races had women on the ballot. The most interesting race in that re­gard was 1973. Six women ran for the board; five of them lost, all to men, but the total vote by which these men won was 157.

NOTE: Murphy - 8, Zito - 11, Buchholz - 43, Bleakley - 72, Fettes - 23. (Incidentally, the lone female winner that year was a freshman legislator named Lucille P. Pattison.) In succeeding County legislative races, women have had more suc­cess and Dutchess County has the reputation around the State for its number of women legislators: in 1975 - 4, 1977 - 6, 1979 - 7.

I noted above that during the 1970's for the first time in our County's history, women held County offices. 1978 was the year the first female judge was elected, Republican Family Court Judge Judith Hillery and the first female County Execu­tive, Democrat Lucille P. Pattison.

Of equal significance; the record of Anna Buchholz, who had earlier served on the Board of Representatives. In 1975, she became not only the first elected Town Supervisor, she has been re-elected each time since, each time from the County's largest municipality.

I have chosen to end my study with the decade of the 70's. While we can look at the 80's and see several interesting devel­opments, I'll leave it to the others to examine the record.

Over the past 50 years, we have seen a pattern develop: Women running in increasing numbers; Women seeking "women's offices", Women defeating women. There are, however, many questions.

During the earliest years, some women did run for county, state and national office. Often, though not always, they ran as 3rd party candidates. Who were these women? What made them run? What statements were they making? They lost the elections, but did they in their own way succeed?

During the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, no women ran for State offices in Dutchess County. Why not? Did they assume they couldn't win and, therefore, didn't try? Were they not interested in running? Did they make a conscious decision to set their sights only on local offices? Were there other inhibitors? Family, social bias, fear?

Looking at County offices, there have only been two women office-holders. Could there have been other winners, had more women run? Were there inhibitors similar to those in state and federal contests.

Something happened in the 70's. There was a break­ through--but how much of one when one considers the number of potential offices women could hold. In Dutchess County we have hundreds of women running, but there are thousands of opportunities. The decade of the 80's may be the crucial one. Will women say they've done so well, there is no need to push on? Will the electorate come to a point when it be­lieves politics has become saturated with women office-seekers and holders? I trust the answer will be a resounding no.

My paper is done, but it's not complete. There are source materials untapped in the towns and cities halls. There are county residents who can fill in the details and add life to the statistics. I appeal to you to take this sampler of women on the road to elected office, complete the scholarship needed to validate or challenge the conclusions I have made; answer the unanswered questions. By all means draw on those with memories of time and events.

Finally, I appeal to those interested in this subject. Discourage complacency. Continue to press on so that women will be inspired to seek any political office and hold at least 50% of all politicians. We do have a long way to go; Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged Dutchess County women to run for certain public offices when she was active in Dutchess County. Wouldn't these goals be a fitting tribute to the memory of Eleanor Roosevelt and to those she inspired?

 

*There was a misunderstanding in Pattison's 1984 speech which originally included a man, saying, "For U.S. Congress, Roslyn Cox, a Democrat ran against Hamilton Fish, (8,429 out of 22,505 cast)." This has been removed for clarity.

This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women's suffrage, other articles here: