Abby (Griffin) Bickford1833 - 1908
The first woman elected to the Keene Board of Education.
On July 7th, 1833 Abby (or Alice) Griffin was born in Sutton, Vermont to Elizabeth and Reuben Griffin. By the time she was 23 years old, Abby had graduated from the Newbury Seminary in Vermont and had begun work as a teacher at the New Hampshire Institute in New Hampton, NH.
In 1858, Abby married George Harrison Bickford, a Reverend for the Methodist Church. Together they had three children between 1864 and 1868. Abby and George worked together on his missionary work for a decade. Unfortunately, just as he was being considered to head a large church in Chicago, George died in 1869 leaving Abby a widow.
Abby was left with almost no means to get by and with three young children to take care of. Around 1870 she moved to Keene to raise her children and became very involved in the church and educational reform.
Her interests led her to support a major suffrage cause in the 1870s, municipal suffrage. In 1878, New Hampshire became the first state in the country to allow women to serve on school boards AND vote. Suffragists had argued that women were best suited to decide what was best for their children’s education.
In March 1879, Abby was elected the first woman to the Keene Board of Education alongside George Tilden and George Wheelock. She was arguably one of the first women in the country to serve on a municipal board with voting privileges. Her election was covered in the Boston Post newspaper, which reported that “about 100 ladies were present and participated in the voting”. Leading suffragists from around the country applauded New Hampshire’s decision. Unfortunately, Abby’s time on the school board was short lived.
In 1880, Abby moved with her children to Montpelier, Vermont. She enrolled her children in Montpelier Seminary and began working there as a matron in one of the halls and a teacher at the seminary. Abby continued to work there until her youngest son was in his last year.
In addition to her work in schools and serving on the Board of Education, Abby was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement and did missionary work for her church. In 1886, Abby married Joseph Owen of Barton, Vermont. The couple moved to Hardwick, where they resided the rest of their lives. Abby’s daughter, Elizabeth, died in 1894, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter, whom Abby raised.
On October 28th, 1908, Abby Owen died after a life of service and dedication to the educational system. E. A. Bishop wrote of her after her death, “However dark the future appeared she never seemed to lose courage or interest in the larger problems of life. Her ideals were high and faithfully pursued and nothing short of the purest the noblest and the best was ever considered for her children…Hers was a life of labor and sacrifice for others.”
Points of Interest
- Gravesite of Abby (Griffin) Bickford - Massey Cemetery
- 49 Washington Street in Keene, site of where Abby lived in the 1870s
- WCTU - History of the Women's Christian Temperance Union
- Education Reform - History of Education Reform Movement of the turn-of-the-20th century