Abby Smith and Her Cows

Julia Evelina Smith (1792–1886).
Abby Smith and Her Cows.
With a Report of the Law Case Decided Contrary to Law
Hartford, 1877. (32715)

By 1869 Julia Smith and her sister Abby Hadassah Smith (1797–1878) were the only surviving members of their family. Angered by artificially elevated tax rates on their valuable farmstead, they began to attend women’s suffrage meetings in Hartford. At a Glastonbury town meeting in 1873, Abby Smith delivered a spirited protest against the taxation of unenfranchised women, after which the sisters refused to pay taxes until they were granted the right to vote in town meetings. The following January local authorities seized seven of their valued Alderney cows, which were sold to cover the unpaid taxes. In addition, in June 1874 officials auctioned off fifteen acres of the Smiths’ pasture land, valued at $2,000, because the sisters owed approximately $50 in property taxes. Legal irregularities in this sale led to a protracted lawsuit in which the Smiths succeeded in getting their land back. Meanwhile, their cows were taken away repeatedly for tax payments. Although the publication of the sisters’ speeches and letters in newspapers across the nation brought notoriety to the case and the return of the cows, it did not win the women the right to vote.

In 1877 Julia Smith published a lively account of the controversy, Abby Smith and Her Cows, derisively calling the whole episode “a fine commentary on the doings of our Forefathers one hundred years ago.” The frontispiece, exhibited here, depicts Abby Smith with four of the cows, named Daisy, Whitey, Minnie, and Proxy, and two calves, named Martha Washington and Abigail Adams.

Listen as curator Dr. Eric White talks about Julia Evelina Smith during a tour.

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