Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: The progressive women of Windsor

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Windsor town fathers, cognizant of the 19th Amendment ratified by the states in 1920, for the first time drew the name of a woman for traverse jury duty. That was in January 1922.

She was the first woman juror in Massachusetts.

"I expect to be present when court opens," Bertha Mann Cady (1882-1962) told The Berkshire Eagle, "ready for any duty I may be called upon to perform in connection with the January term of superior court. Now that women have suffrage I believe they should be willing to assume its responsibilities as well as privileges."

But when Cady appeared at the court house in Pittsfield, she was summoned to Judge George A. Flynn's sanctum. He told her "she was not elegible to serve as a juror," according to the Eagle, "under a ruling of the supreme court, which held that no woman was liable to such duty until the general court had enacted legislation making it legal for them to serve in that capacity."

Cady had taught school in West Stockbridge, Hinsdale and Windsor until her marriage in 1908 to farmer and lumberman Dennis A. Cady. She was a past master of the Hilltop and Berkshire North Pomona granges and was a juvenile deputy master of the state grange. She played the organ at Windsor Congregational Church.

But she couldn't sit in a jury box.

FEARS OF MEN

Come town meeting time, Charles H. Ball, the mill operator from East Windsor, was for the umpteenth time elected moderator. He was thinking about a warrant item close to his heart: an appropriation for prizes for school children.

But before deliberations on any warrant items could begin, Lila Dell Jacobs Tournier (1879-1932) had a pet proposal of her own to air. She was among the 10 newly enrolled women voters who attended the meeting. Before Ball could conduct the election of town officers, she urged adoption of the Australian ballot — a printed ballot with the names of all the nominees for office listed. The way the town did it then, there were contests for each selectman's seat, for example, instead of the highest three vote getters winning office.

Townspeople downed Tournier's idea.

Mrs. T was blunt in the failure of her motion: "The men in Windsor are loath to accept any advice or suggestions from the women," she told a reporter. "Although they show us much respect, they are afraid to allow us even a step within the lines. The time is close at hand when the women's votes will decide or turn the elections."

Curiously, during the election, it was the votes of the women indeed that helped carry the successful male candidates.

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And, "Once during the voting two more ballots were found in the box than the voters' names checked."

"During the confusion caused by stuffed ballot box," The North Adams Transcript reported, harsh words were hurled from party to party across the hall, but the climax was reached when [longtime selectman] Mr. [William C.] Estes rose to his feet and in reply to a taunt from Mrs F.V. Tournier said that in his entire life stuffing the ballot box had never happened before on Windsor Hill, and he felt sure the women were the guilty individuals."

He shut up when someone pointed out this wasn't the first time by any means in the last 20 years that there were too many ballots cast, and women couldn't be blamed for that.

The meeting proceeded and when it reached Ball's pet item, he "combined diplomacy with courtesy and asked Mrs. Tournier to take the chair," The Boston Globe said. "She became the first woman moderator in New England, so far as is known.

The Transcript explained that Ball made the gesture so he could step down to speak in favor of his school rewards. Ball was the first to address Tournier as "Mrs. Moderator."

"For 15 or 20 minutes Mrs. Tournier was moderator of the town meeting and conducted the meeting while 10 or 12 speakers gave their views ," The Globe said.

CADY VINDICATED

Mrs. T, an East Windsor native, was the wife of farmer Florian V. Tournier. She had been appointed chairman of the women's division of the Republican Town Committee in summer 1920. She was an active grange member and was a past matron of the Berkshire Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star. She was a Berkshire Eagle correspondent for 18 years.

"As for the article for a change to the Australian balloting system," she said, "it seems to me that after 150 years the town should get out of the rut."

As it turns out, the last word on Mrs. Cady's hung jury role came a few months later, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court at the request of Gov. Channing H. Cox ruled "to the effect that women are eligible to hold any office, the same as men do, in this state. This decision was expected. Surely it was the understanding when the 19th amendment was added to the constitution that it placed women on the same level with men, politically," the Eagle said, urging Windsor leaders to the next January again place her name on the jury rosteR.

Windsor was modestly in the vanguard.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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