Consuelo Northrop Bailey probably wouldn’t call herself a feminist. At least that’s Vermont State Curator David Schutz’s take.
Yet, by modern standards, we’d likely call her one, Schutz added.
Bailey held many female firsts as she climbed the ranks of state politics.
After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1921 – months after the 19th amendment was passed, giving many women the right to vote – Bailey went on to study law at Boston University. She later became the first Vermont female to practice law before the Supreme Court and ran a successful campaign for the post of Vermont’s first female state’s attorney.
In 1930, Bailey made a successful bid for a term in the Vermont Senate, representing Chittenden County. Later, in 1950, she was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives, serving the people of South Burlington.
She went on to become Vermont’s first female speaker of the house, and one year later, its first female lieutenant governor.
As the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment’s passage approaches, observe the feat by getting to know the local trailblazer.
Twice as hard
In a Nov. 6, 1954, New York Times report following Bailey’s historic lieutenant governorship win, Bailey seemed to breeze over the accomplishment.
“Mrs. Consuelo Northrop Bailey, who has blazed fresh trails for modern American women on the political battlegrounds of Vermont, feels no different as Lieutenant Governor-elect of her state than she felt when she was ‘a good private citizen,’” The Times reported.
The Times article added that Bailey felt women could have a greater role in government if they were “willing to work and sacrifice.”
“But women are at a disadvantage with men in politics,” she told The Times. “Women have to work twice as hard as men to get elected.”
Bailey’s loyalty to the republican party and conservatism didn’t really allow her to embrace the feminist she acted like, Schulz said.
“I think she prided herself on not acknowledging that women had a particularly rougher time of it than anybody else,” Schutz said. “She didn’t think her gender mattered.”
Bailey “played the gender game very carefully,” said Melanie Gustafson, a history professor at the University of Vermont, whose students put together an online exhibit several years ago exploring Bailey’s political career.
Bailey preferred to be photographed in her kitchen, wearing an apron, rather than at a desk, Gustafson said. But she was of the generation whose mothers had already begun to hold positions on local-level boards.
Her generation wasn’t asking if women should run for office, they already believed that women should, Gustafson said.
Bailey’s ascent up the Vermont political ladder stopped short of the top when her husband, Henry Bailey, developed Parkinson’s disease.
“This is an old story. The old story where women’s careers get short-circuited, possibly, by family concerns,” Schutz said. “Women have always been, I think sociologists might venture, not able to pursue their careers unimpeded in the same way that men have always been able to because they are so much more responsible for family.”
But it wasn’t the end of Bailey’s political career. She continued to work in politics, maintaining her post representing Vermont in the Republican National Committee through the 1970s. She gained “national prominence” when she called roll of the states during the 1968 Republican National Convention, according to a New York Times article published on Sept. 11, 1976 – just after her death.
In her own words
In 1953, Bailey gave a speech called “Are Women Free,” during her time as a national committee member for the republican party. In that speech, she called for American women to take advantage of the right to vote and to participate in government.
“We are living in a world which needs free women to lift the world out of the mire of confusion, distrust, crime and war,” Bailey wrote in a draft of the speech. “We have had the vote for 41 years and no one can claim that we have used all of our rights to the fullest.”
She highlighted how female votership increased by 39% between the 1948 and 1952 presidential elections. But there were about 1.5 million more eligible female voters than male, 600,000 more males voted in that election than females, she added.
“In the organizations of political parties, both state and national, women have equal recognition but in actual participation, the women still let men carry the load and get the benefits to a large degree,” Bailey said.
“There has been some disappointment on the part of many women and some men that comparatively so few women have stood for election,” she added. “Surely, a great many more women can hold office if they are willing to work for the posts. It is entirely in their own hands.”