Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"There Is Endless Bitterness of Heart" -- Pelham Manor Women Pull a Fast One in 1882

One of the most infamous elections in the history of the Town of Pelham was the School Board election held during the School District's annual meeting on Tuesday, October 10, 1882.  For years such meetings had been quiet and staid affairs where, typically, the men of Pelhamville and Pelham Manor met to conduct school district business and to conduct the elections to fill vacant school board Trustee seats.  

Things were different in 1882.  Pelham Manor and Pelhamville were jockeying for control of the School Board in an effort to ensure funding and fair treatment for their respective students and school houses.  Pelham Manor had a "fine brick" school house, while Pelhamville had a tiny, crowded wooden school house.  Pelham Manor believed, rightly or wrongly, that its residents were far more willing to pay the taxes necessary to ensure schools and instructors of the highest quality.  Pelham Manor felt Pelhamville was unwilling to support the expenditure of the necessary sums.  Pelhamville, on the other hand, felt that school expenditures previously had been used unfairly to benefit the school in Pelham Manor at the expense of the school in Pelhamville.  Both settlements wanted control of the school board.  At the time, Pelham Manor was perceived as controlling the board because Pelham Manor resident George H. Reynolds was president of the school board.  In 1882, he was up for re-election.

Although accounts differ (and are somewhat vague in critically-important respects), it appears that there was one board vacancy to be filled (not two as one account claimed).  Pelham Manor voters supported Pelham Manor resident George H. Reynolds who was running for re-election to the board.  Pelhamville voters supported Pelhamville resident W. Scott Bertine who was seeking to unseat Reynolds.  

As the appointed time approached, men filed into the tiny little school house in Pelhamville as they had for numerous years.  In prior years, some women attended and voted.  However, their numbers were small -- only nine women had voted in the school board election the year before.  The year 1882 was different, however.  Women -- LOTS of Women -- filed in with the men.  Those women supported Pelham Manor resident George H. Reynolds.  Reynolds was not only an incumbent school board member, but also the President of the Board.  Pelham Manor women were not going to permit Pelhamville to reduce Pelham Manor's influence over the local school board.  

Pelhamville voters were furious.  Their leaders had canvassed carefully and previously believed that the ticket led by Bertine would win by a majority of about seventeen votes.  Pelhamville had hoped to use the ballot box to overthrow the President of the school board from Pelham Manor.  Pelham Manor women, however, would have none of it.  

As the voting began, about thirty women were present along with about one hundred men.  The women voted in a block for the re-election of Pelham Manor resident George H. Reynolds.  When the ballots were counted, Pelham Manor resident George H. Reynolds was re-elected by a vote of 73 to 52.

Pelhamville residents were incensed.  They cried "fraud!"  Some alleged that various of the women who voted were not actual residents of Pelham Manor but were, instead, either long term visitors or family servants.  One Pelhamville resident claimed that he saw a young girl vote three times.  One newspaper account claimed that there were rumors that a "subscription" was being used to hire a lawyer to contest the election and suggested that the school board might refuse to re-seat George H. Reynolds.

The disputed election received attention far and wide.  Newspapers as far away as Tennessee reported on the "voting women" who had carried the day for Pelham Manor in its epic battle for control of the school board with Pelhamville.  Most reports focused on the bitterness between the Pelham Manor and Pelhamville.  As one report noted, after the election "there is endless bitterness of heart."

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes yet another account of the 1882 Pelham school board election, albeit a brief one, published in the November 4, 1882 issue of the Memphis Daily Appeal published in Memphis, Tennessee.  The text of the account is followed by a citation to its source.

"Voting women have already made a political row -- of limited dimensions though it be.  Aristocratic Pelham manor [sic] and democratic Pelhamville, near New York City, together form a school district; the two sections had each a candidate for school director; the manor carried the day by having a lot of women vote; now the ville charges that some of those women were non-residents and not entitled to the ballot in that bailiwick, and there is endless bitterness of heart."

Source:  [Untitled] Voting Women, Memphis Daily Appeal [TN], Nov. 4, 1882, Vol. XLII, No. 304, p. 2, col. 7.  

I have written before of the infamous 1882 Pelham school board election.  See:  Tue., Feb. 26, 2008:  Disputed Pelham School Board Election of 1882 Led to Charges of Fraud.

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