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by June Rifkin



            Women in Politics…

            What illustrious names are conjured up…Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher…even Connecticut’s Ella Grasso.

            In Branford we have been extremely fortunate with the high degree of competence and commitment of the women who have been involved politically, both on the local and state levels. What is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Branford’s “Women in Politics” is that they were ahead of their time.

            Barbara Reimers, a former State Senator (1976-1978) has a theory that local boards and commissions are a great training ground for politically interested women. She also feels that Connecticut, being a geographically small state, enables women to successfully juggle their participation in Hartford and still be home at night with their families.

            Alice Peterson held the position of Editor of the Branford Review from 1938-April 1948. In November 1948 she was elected to the State Legislature thus becoming the first woman representative from Branford. She served for three terms, four years of which were as Deputy Secretary of State. She was prominently known for her work on committees such as the Election Committee, Commission on Public Health and Welfare and the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies. “Women are treated well in Branford (Republican) politics”-she staed, “but not well enough.” She wanted to see a change in the party regulation which stated “there shall be a chairman and a vice-chairman, one of whom shall be a woman.” Peterson said that it should have read”…one of whom shall be a man.”

            Ruth Clark had been active in town and state politics since 1949. Her elective public offices included four years as a State Legislature, eight years on the board of Education and three years as a member of the Representative Town Meeting; elected to the first RTM in 1958. While representing Branford in the General Assembly, Mrs. Clark served on State Legislative committees for environment, education, public health and safety, and human rights and opportunities. When asked what was her biggest contribution-she replied “the law passed in 1974 requiring the Water Company to get permission from the State Department of health to sell watershed lands.” Certainly an early environmentalist!

            Mention Women in Politics in Branford and the name that comes immediately to mind is that of Lucy Hammer. At 89 she is still sharp and a delight to talk to. She’s been in politics for more than 40 years; served three terms in the General Assembly from 1955-1961 and six terms as a State Senator from 1961-1973. In 1967 Hammer became the first woman from either political party to serve as Assistant Majority Leader. She became one of the area’s most important political leaders and was proud of her “Maverick” reputation. She was a ranking member of the state’s blur ribbon Commission on Higher Education and was almost single-handedly responsible for instituting the community college in Connecticut. Hammer sat on labor and legislative committees and proposed laws that would equalize education funding in the state and reform Connecticut laws on special education and child abuse.

            Other women who have held elective state office representing Branford are; Arlene Ryan and Peggy Becket-Rinker. On the local level, Georgette “Tootsie” Laske is the first elected female Town Clerk, although Beulah Geier was the first woman appointed to the position of Town Clerk in 1945. Sarah Rosenthal, active in local politics, was appointed to the Board of Finance in 1955. When Judy Gott was elected First Selectman by a mere 200 votes in 1983, many of those who opposed her called it a “fluke.” Only one woman had previously attempted, unsuccessfully to run for this position, and Gott was the first Republican to win in 20 years. She is now serving her sixth term. She also served two terms on the RTM. The downtown revitalization stands today as one of her proudest achievements. Before her death in January this year, Robert Geier, long-time chairman of the Board of Finance, said “Judy is a dedicated town servant who puts in a lot of hard, thoughtful hours.”

            In today’s political arena, we have many women not elected to public office but who, nevertheless, play a significant role. Branford has had its own movers and shakers. There are countless others-again evidence of the spirit of involvement which has become synonymous with Branford, a town justifiably proud of is “Women in Politics.”


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