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History Corner: Edna Beard: First Woman in Both the House and Senate in Vermont

Edna Beard in 1922. Photo from the Bethel Courier via Wikipedia.
The same year women finally won the right to vote following a 70-year fight, Edna Beard became the first woman in the Vermont Legislature. She was 44 years old when she was elected to the House of Representatives, where she served from 1921 to 1923. She was then elected Orange County’s senator from 1923 to 1925. Prior to that she served as the town treasurer of Orange. She was also a farmer and a school teacher, according to Wikipedia.

Born in Illinois in 1877 to two native Vermonters, Royal Edson Beard and Flora (Curtiss) Beard, Edna Beard moved to Vermont with her family in the 1880s. She graduated from Barre’s Spaulding High School in 1896. She then became a teacher at several area schools and the superintendent for Orange schools beginning in 1906.

She grew to set her sights on higher office. She lost her first bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in the 1920 Republican primary by six votes. The 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, had been ratified earlier that same year. So she changed her party affiliation from Republican to a third party called the Citizen’s Party in 1920. Luckily for her, 40 women in Orange registered to vote between the primary and the general election, which gave her enough votes (38 more than her opponent) to become the state’s first female legislator. She served one term, then went on to seek and win a seat in the senate for Orange County. She resigned from politics in 1924 due to her health.

Retired State Archivist Gregory Sanford wrote about her in his 2005 “Voice from the Vault” that her first House bill, “which was enacted, raised compensation for women with children whose husbands were dead, incapacitated, or who had abandoned them. Senator Beard’s first (successful) bill allowed for county sheriffs hiring women as deputies.” Sanford also tipped his hat to Rep. Mehitable C. Robinson of Rutland, who sponsored a bill requiring the investigation of adoptive families in 1927 and to Rep. Nina Mason of Pawlet, who sponsored legislation limiting children from working if they had not yet had a full education.

Beard did not marry or have children and died in Orange in 1928 at the age of 51. She was buried at Orange Center Cemetery.