Abigail Drake Chandler: Orleans County Women’s Suffrage Pioneer
In Celebration of Women’s History Month, by Bob Hunt, Curator
March is Women’s History Month, and with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial coming up in 2020 it seems as good a time as any to remember a remarkable and all but forgotten Orleans County woman. This woman lived for nearly a century in the state of Vermont and for over sixty years in what has been known since 1908 as the Village of Orleans. For most of her time in Orleans the village was known as Barton Landing, and when it became too confusing for dispatchers for the railroad, due to three stations containing the name Barton, the village name was changed to Orleans. Many letters were written to the local papers suggesting possible names including Orleans and Chandler. Chandler was the name of the family that began a lumber company in Barton that became a flourishing business that was to bring prosperity to the town of Barton including lumber mills and factories in both Barton and Orleans as well as other county towns and becoming a major employer. One of those factories remains today, only now we know it as the Ethan Allen furniture manufacturing plant in Orleans. Abigail Drake Chandler was the matriarch of this family.
Abigail was born Abigail Drake Baldwin in Strafford, Vermont on October 22, 1829 the daughter of Dr. Eleazer Baldwin and Polly Ladd. In 1847 at the age of 18, she married Levinus Chandler of Berlin, Vermont. About 1853 the Chandler’s moved to Barton, and in 1865 they came to Orleans – then Barton Landing, where Mrs. Chandler lived until the day of her death on January 26, 1927 at the age of 98.
Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Chandler. Edward Chandler, born May 22, 1849, succeeded his father in the lumber business and made the beginnings of what afterward became the E.L. Chandler Co. Two subsequent children died in childhood, Abbie Jane at age two in 1856, and George Baldwin in 1864 at age 6.
In spite of the tragic loss of two children, Mrs. Chandler took an active part in her community, state and country. She possessed a keen intellect and participated in movements for civic betterment and her interests were worldwide. She was an ardent Universalist, a life-long member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a pioneer in the woman suffrage movement, at one time being president of the Woman Suffrage Association of Vermont. She was personal friends with Lucy Stone Blackwell, a prominent U.S. orator, abolitionist and suffragist, and a vocal advocate, organizer and promoter of women’s rights as well as her daughter, the feminist Alice Stone Blackwell. Other notable friends included Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, Mary Livermore, Frances Willard and many others identified with the W.C.T.U. and suffrage movement.
An article flagged Women’s Suffrage in the Rutland Daily Herald dated Nov. 19, 1884 states that, “A petition signed by Abigail D. Chandler and 161 others, citizens of Barton, asking for the right of suffrage to women in town and municipal elections, was presented by Senator Fletcher.”
The Journal of the State of Vermont – Biennial Session 1886 shows that on Friday October 22, Mr. Blake presented the petition of Abigail Chandler and 204 citizens of Barton asked for the passage of a law granting to women the right of suffrage in municipal elections; and the same was referred to the committee on elections.
Vermont women had gained the right to vote and hold office in school districts in 1880, and women gradually began attending school meetings. Perhaps one of the best arguments for women’s suffrage appeared in the Orleans County Monitor on March 13, 1894. and Abigail Chandler was the main character. “An episode in the meeting was the presence of several ladies, one of whom, Mrs. Chandler of Barton Landing, availed herself of the right to vote on the matter of school directors…. The ladies happened to come in just at a time when the scene was the most boisterous and the proceedings most crazed. When the actors came to discover that they were exhibiting themselves to no particular advantage in the sight of the visitors they calmed down. If the presence of a few ladies will work such a change as that, they ought to be present at every meeting of the kind.”
There is probably much more to be discovered about the role Abigail Chandler played in the history of the women’s suffrage movement. It is known that she attended many conventions held throughout the state and country. The proceedings of the forty-sixth annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, held in Nashville, Tennessee in November of 1914, lists her as an honorary vice-president as well as a life member.
Abigail was widowed in March of 1890, and also suffered the losses of her only surviving son and daughter-in-law in 1898. The census of 1920 has her living with her companion, the artist Eliza Sherman Eaton age 66 and Marcia Lyon a housekeeper-servant. Sadly, her companion passed away in June of 1920 without ever voting in a state or national election, but the following headline ran in the Orleans County Monitor on Wednesday, September15, 1920:
Casts First Vote at 90
Mrs. Abigail D. Chandler of Orleans, an ardent worker for Woman’s Suffrage for many years, is one of the happiest women in Orleans County, for on Tuesday she cast her first vote, at the age of 90 years. It is likely that she voted for Warren Harding in November, as Henry Browne Blackwell, who was both the husband of her friend Lucy Stone and a founder of the Republican Party. She also lived to possibly vote for Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Abigail died on January 26, 1927 and was survived by two grandchildren, Eva Chandler of Orleans, and Fred E. Chandler of Bangor, Maine.