Trailblazing Women: Annette Parmalee

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(HOST) For Women’s History Month, commentator Deborah Clifford remembers Annette Parmalee, Vermont’s “Suffragette Hornet”.

(CLIFFORD) Back in 1917, if you’d asked Vermonters to name the most famous woman in the state, they might well have answered, “Annette Parmalee.” Because of her noisy, persistent agitation of the cause of women’s suffrage, she was called the “Suffragette Hornet” and had entertained the Vermont legislature for nearly a decade with her witty and convincing arguments in support of the question. That year her efforts finally succeeded as the lawmakers gave tax-paying women the right to cast ballots in town and city elections.

So who was Annette Parmalee? Actually, we know very little about her personal life, except that she was born Annette Watson in the village of Washington in 1865. After marrying Edward Jones Parmalee, a lawyer, she moved to Enosburgh where her husband had his practice. A good-natured, high-spirited woman, Annette once said of herself, “From a child I was always a rogue and could see the fun side of things, and I haven’t outgrown that weakness yet.”

Parmalee was originally drawn to the temperance crusade, the popular 19th-century drive to curb drinking. Then, in 1907, she joined the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association and, within a year, she was put to work lobbying the legislature to give women the vote.

Annette Parmalee was not simply a winning and engaging speaker; she was also one of the few leaders of the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association who understood that vaguely worded suffrage measures that spoke of giving women the same rights as men would not cut much ice with the lawmakers.

One of Parmalee’s more notable speeches was given on October 26, 1910, when, for nearly an hour, she addressed the House committee considering the woman suffrage question. In the course of her talk she repeatedly insisted that she was not asking for universal suffrage, but simply for the right of taxpaying women to have a voice in how their money was spent.

The speech, which received a lot of coverage in the press, caught the attention of a good number of propertied Vermont women. Down in Grafton a large landowner, Miss L. C. Daniels, took Annette’s words to heart and began a personal campaign in support of municipal suffrage by refusing to pay her taxes.

Meanwhile, Annette Parmalee continued working ceaselessly for the suffrage cause, and the respect she earned among the legislators resulted in the endorsement of full suffrage by both major political parties in Vermont.

Although Annette Parmalee may not be a household word today, she deserves to be remembered as a certain kind of successful Vermont pioneer.

This is Deborah Clifford of New Haven.

Deborah Clifford is a historian and biographer. Her most recent book is The Passion of Abby Hemenway: Memory, Spirit, and the Making of History.

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