Consuelo Northrup Bailey was Vermont’s first woman to hold the office of Speaker of the House. When she was 15 years old, Bailey was a spectator at an inheritance trial of a prominent St. Albans woman. The basic argument against the woman who deserved the money was that she was too small a woman to inherit a large amount of money.
The case appalled Bailey, and must have been in the back of her mind when she graduated from law school and became Burlington’s Grand Juror. It also must have been in the back of her mind as she became Speaker of the Vermont House and Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. Bailey was the second woman in the nation to be elected Speaker and the first woman in the nation to be elected Lieutenant Governor.
She was born in 1899 in Sheldon, Vermont, and received strong support from her father to pursue a legal career. She graduated from the University of Vermont and afterwards taught Latin, reading and history in Shelburne. In 1925, she graduated from the Boston University School of Law and was appointed Grand Juror of Burlington. She passed the Vermont Bar Exam in 1925, the seventh woman in Vermont to be an attorney.
From 1926 to 1928, she was elected Chittenden County’s State’s Attorney, and prosecuted cases, including illegal dance halls and bigamy. Her political career began in 1930 when she was elected to the Vermont Senate. In her book, Leaves Before the Wind, an autobiography, she wrote this about her Senate experience:
“As I walked down from the Capitol to my room on State Street, I was glad the sun was reducing the snow banks which had been with us for so long. Tiny streams were running in the streets and the smell of the moist, warm earth arose from the ground which had at last been released from the bonds of winter. It is small wonder that this smell for us in the north country produces a feeling of delight and satisfaction, for it renders the verdict that Vermonters have ‘wintered’ again and will soon enjoy the full meaning of spring. This assurance also reduced somewhat the ache in my heart, for I was saddened by our parting. I had been blessed by the kindness and friendship of the thirty splendid men who comprised the Senate. Like leaves, they have fallen from the tree of life. But with their passing, they have added beauty to the pattern of the land they served and dearly loved.”
Bailey was elected to the Vermont House in 1951 and 1952, representing South Burlington. In 1953, she won the speakership, and in her address to the House of Representatives, she said, “I want to say that this is no time for any of us to think of anything except one thing at all times. I hope you will bear it in mind from now on until the close of the session. There should be only one question in our minds, in other words, we should put aside all feeling. We should put aside all unsatisfied desires and ambitions and keep before us at all times the one paramount issue – what is best for the state of Vermont.”
In her autobiography, she referred to Senator George Aiken’s nomination of Senator Margaret Chase Smith for President of the United States in this way:
“The primary importance was that her achievements were not the result of a woman’s liberation movement. What she had gained was by her own effort. She had not expected favors because she was a woman. She had earned her own way from start to finish. She had proved, as many other pioneers had, that nothing is impossible to those who do not count the cost of labor and sacrifice.”
In another part of her book, Bailey wrote:
“I devoutly hope that I may reveal the character of the Vermont I dearly love and the spirit of Vermonters I have known. For what is really important is Vermont’s glorious history, her rich traditions, her precious scenery, which brings tears to the eyes of all who love her, the everyday, common, honest people who unknowingly salted down the Vermont way of life with a flavor peculiar only to the Green Mountains.”
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 223-2851.