Lydia Chapin Taft was the first woman to legally vote in New England.
The year was 1756, and the issue of taxation without representation was a hot concern in the American colonies. Boston minister James Mayhew was preaching about the injustice of British colonial rule in election year sermons that would give rise to the issue.
In the town of Uxbridge, Mass., meanwhile, the issue took on a more local tone. The town needed to raise funds to contribute to its defense in the French and Indian Wars. Voting was restricted to male landowners, at the time, and Uxbridge had just lost one of its largest property owners: Josiah Taft.
Josiah was a civic leader in Uxbridge, serving as a selectman and town moderator. In 1756, Caleb Taft – son of Josiah and Lydia – became sick while attending college at Harvard. When Caleb died, Josiah retrieved his body, and Josiah, too, soon fell ill and died.
The town needed to select a new moderator, and it also needed to vote on whether to fund the ongoing war. Henry Chapin, a descendent of the Tafts, would later document in 1864 that the town took the unusual step of giving Lydia the right to vote at town meeting.
With her eldest surviving son Bezaleel not yet ten years old, there was no male representative of the Taft’s large estate to vote the family interests. The town meeting, however, remedied this by asking Lydia to vote. She did, casting her vote to support the request for funding, and so the first recorded vote by a woman in Massachusetts occurred.
It would be more than 160 years and countless protests before all women could vote. The full reasoning behind the town of Uxbridge’s decision to ask Lydia to vote isn’t documented. Henry Chapin suggested, however, it was the spirit of “no taxation without representation” that inspired the decision. But he also notes that her vote decided the issue, and perhaps she was needed for political purposes.
Regardless, records show Lydia Taft appeared at least twice more at town meeting conducting her affairs: once to address tax issues and once to change the school district she was assigned.