Abby, Julia, And The Cows

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Abby Smith lived to enjoy the victory for two years, and to see her letters and speeches collected in a paper-bound volume entitled Abby Smith and Her Cows, published by Julia in 1877. The two sisters shared honors as speakers at a number of suffrage conventions, got an ovation in Washington, and even appeared at a hearing before the United States Senate. The only impression made on the home town by these triumphs seems to have been raised eyebrows that the sisters had gone to see the President without even taking a suitcase, but had worn all their clothes at once, simply putting on top, day or night, whatever costume the occasion required.

Romance is not entirely missing from the story of the Smith sisters. At the age of 87, living alone in the Smith homestead, Julia received a proposal of marriage. One of her pamphlets reached the hands of Amos A. Parker of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, a retired judge of 86, whose sole claim to distinction was that he had once written a book of recollections boasting a youthful acquaintance with General Lafayette. Intrigued by a notice of Julia’s Bible, he ordered a copy and after some correspondence traveled to Glastonbury to meet the author. Presently Julia announced to a friend that she was thinking of marrying the judge. “I shall be the laughingstock of the nation,” she confided. But the Smith sisters had never been intimidated by laughter, Julia and the judge were married in the living room of the homestead and stood side by side watching their friends dance the polka and quadrille to the accompaniment of an ancient piano.

To add that the couple lived happily ever after is a temptation several chroniclers have been unable to resist. But rumor persists in Glastonbury that Julia came to realize that in her marriage she had made the one serious mistake of her life. What pathetic loneliness must have lured her to abandon the homestead, with its treasure of memories, for a “small box of a house” in alien Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire! For seven years she made the best of her bargain. At her death there at the age of 94, a note was found in her Bible requesting that she be buried in the family plot between Laurilla and Abby, and that her maiden name only be inscribed on the stone with that of her sisters.

The debt the woman suffrage movement owed to the seven cows of Glastonbury would be hard to reckon. Among the grimly purposeful suffrage tracts this little episode must have sparkled like a jewel, and Abby’s pithy letters, heartening of course to the vast voteless sisterhood, must also have reached many a masculine ear ordinarily deaf to feminine harangues.

“Abby Smith and her cows are marching on like John Brown’s soul,” wrote Isabella Beecher Hooker. “I am not sure that ‘kine couchant’ on the grassy slope of the beautiful Connecticut should not be adopted as the emblem of our peaceful suffrage banner.”

“The cows are again complacently chewing their cuds in Abby Smith’s comfortable barn,” reported the Boston Herald in 1874, “but the case has given a tough cud to the country to chew upon until the New Declaration of Independence is achieved and Abby Smith votes.”