From the April 8, 1927 edition of the Gazette:

As regards woman suffrage the Vineyard has always been very conservative. While there has never been any active party for or against it, the general attitude of both men and women has seemed to disregard it altogether. There has been, however, and still is at least one lady living on the Vineyard, who has been as active in suffrage as the environment would allow, since she came to the Island in 1882, Mrs. Florence Blackwell Mayhew of Chilmark is the lady who from inclination and from an inherited interest in public and professional matters has worked for the cause which she believed in until success having been attained she turned her mind and efforts to other things and has attracted the Island’s attention by her recent appointment as a local preacher. Mrs. Mayhew was born in New York City and was brought up in New Jersey. She is the daughter of Antionette L. Blackwell, first ordained woman minister.

Mrs. Mayhew’s own cousin is Alice Stone Blackwell, the famous woman suffrage leader. She is a niece of Lucy Stone, who was the first woman to affront American manhood by retaining her maiden name after marriage. An aunt, Elizabeth Blackwell, was the first woman doctor in this country. She has two sisters, also, who studied medicine, so it is not strange that as a young girl she set her mind on a professional career and that was the ministry.

As a child she came to the Vineyard during the summer for a number of years and become very fond of the place. A few years passed, during which the Island was not visited, and then in 1881, Mrs. Mayhew, then a young woman, again came to Chilmark, and there met her future husband, the late E. Elliot Mayhew. The following year she was married and since that time has lived in Chilmark.

Chilmark was vastly different from the present town, and no one is better qualified to note the difference than Mrs. Mayhew.

The post office was then located on the Middle Road, near Tea Lane, in the house of John Dunham, who was then postmaster. One of the front rooms of the house was utilized for this purpose, and Mrs. Mayhew draws a vivid picture of the place.

There was a bed in this room where people who wished to take the stage could sleep overnight, for Mr. Dunham’s establishment was at once an inn and a post office. This was not remarkable in itself except for the fact that there was nothing to prevent a lodger from rummaging through the mail, robbing it in fact, if he was so inclined.

But nothing of the sort ever happened. There was no need of locking anything up, says Mrs. Mayhew, for nothing was ever lost or stolen, although postcards and papers which came into the post office were common property while on the premises.

Although women could not vote on any question at that time, Mrs. Mayhew developed the habit of attending town meeting and for a long time she was the only woman present.

“I believe that my presence improved the moral atmosphere to some extent,” she says, explaining the condition of the hall and behavior of the voters.

Men habitually chewed tobacco at town meeting and decorated the floor and stove with hit-or-miss patterns of tobacco juice. This sort of thing began to change after she began to attend town meetings, says Mrs. Mayhew, and in time as other women attended, the practice died out.

Time brought a change in the laws and Mrs. Mayhew was one of the first women to register as a voter in the town, attending each town meeting conscientiously to cast her vote for school committee, the first office which women could vote on or hold. Later, she herself ran for office on the school board and was elected.

Mrs. Mayhew has also done considerable writing and has corresponded for the Gazette for many years. Keenly alive to the problems of the times her articles often take the form of suggestions for improvement and development along various lines which affect the general public.

For some years Mrs. Mayhew has been a widow and it seems as though grief and loneliness may have brought back her girlhood desire to enter the ministry. However that may be, she received her commission as local preacher a few weeks ago and is now authorized to officiate at any church service except a marriage. For this she is obliged to apply for a special dispensation, which she expects to receive after the Methodist conference.

“I want to help Chilmark,” she says, “in the church, in politics, and all other ways, and I feel that as a duly commissioned preacher my word may carry more weight.”

Thus Mrs. Mayhew is living up to the traditions of her illustrious family, strong-minded people who disregarded ridicule and opposition for years in their struggle for an ideal, and lived to see their dreams come true, and to know that if they were not indeed the builders they at least had laid a secure foundation for those who should follow in their footsteps.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox