Trailblazing Women: Consuelo Northrup Bailey

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(HOST) For Women’s History Month, commentator Cyndy Bittinger remembers Consuelo Northrup Bailey, a woman who was a trailblazing powerhouse in Vermont politics.

(BITTINGER) Vermont has not yet sent a woman to the United States Senate or House, but has elected three female lieutenant governors: Consuelo Northrup Bailey, Madeleine May Kunin and Barbara Snelling. Kunin has said that the portrait of Bailey in the State House inspired her to run for the governorship in 1984.

Consuelo was born in 1899 in Fairfield and received a Spanish name even though her parents were Vermont Yankees named Peter and Katherine Northrup. Her father then decided to raise one of his three daughters with male expectations. This set Consuelo on an unusual course. She graduated from the University of Vermont in 1921 and then went on to Boston University Law School where only 25 women attended along with 1,000 men.

She was the first female city prosecutor for Burlington, the first woman elected State’s Attorney in 1926 and the first woman lawyer in Vermont to try a murder case. She prosecuted the case before an all male jury and won.

Tired of jailing bootleggers, she turned to the legislative field. After working in Washington as a secretary for U. S. Senator Ernest Gibson, Sr., she returned to her home state to resume her own political career. She married Albon Bailey in 1940, and with their combined law practices and love of politics, they became the power couple in Burlington.

Fifty-two women served in the 1953 House of Representatives, but that was not why Bailey was voted in as the first woman speaker. She had visited every representative, male and female, and personally appealed for their votes.

In 1954, she became the first woman in the United States to be elected lieutenant governor. During her campaign, she was required to enter a milking contest in Randolph. Since she had been a farmer in her teens, she was not phased. As she recalled, “I had to win. Vermont farmers’ wives would be delighted. There were votes in every splash into the pail.”

Once elected, Governor Johnson and Lt. Governor Bailey increased spending for public school construction and for the University of Vermont. The construction of federal interstate highways began.

She won 24 elections in our state. She also was a leader in the national Republican party until her death in 1976. She worked on national conventions and, when General Eisenhower became president, she was appointed to many commissions, especially in civil defense and refugee rescue.

Bailey was quite a fan of Calvin Coolidge. In her first speech as Speaker of the House, she told this story: When Coolidge appointed a woman to the U. S. Customs Court of New York, male officials told him that no women had ever held that post, to which he replied, “No one will ever say that again.” Bailey must have liked the sound of those words.

This is Cyndy Bittinger for the Vermont Women’s History Project.

Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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