Biographical Sketch of Clara Whitehill (Mrs. Joseph) Bailey

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Clara Whitehill (Mrs. Joseph) Bailey, 1838-1911

By Johanna Branson, President, Peacham Historical Association; Professor of Art History and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston (Retired).

Clara Whitehill was born in Ryegate, Vermont on June 15, 1838, the daughter of William and Mary (Craig) Whitehill. She attended district schools, and then the Caledonia County Grammar School in Peacham, Vermont. On October 5, 1857 she married Joseph Bailor (later Bailey). They had three children: George Herbert, born August 24, 1858; Nellie Louise, born April 28, 1861; and Mary Elizabeth, born October 8, 1864.

Joseph was one of four brothers who enlisted to fight for the Union in the Civil War. In May of 1864, Joseph substituted for another man, and enlisted in Company G, 5th Vermont Infantry. At that time, men who substituted for others were paid $300; the town paid an additional $300 bounty to any man who enlisted. Joseph fought in four battles, and was wounded at Petersburg, Virginia on March 25, 1865. He died in a Washington, D.C. hospital, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Clara was reported to have supported Joseph's decision to enlist, but his death left her a widow with three very young children and limited means.

Clara applied for a widow's pension, and is reported to have worked for the Bradley family. In 1870, she bought the house known as The Home Place from the estate of Louisa Bradley for $2,630. Along with the house, she acquired the deed to Pew No. 94 in the Peacham Congregational Church.

At some point, Clara began to take in boarders. One was her husband's older brother Alexander, who had survived the war. Eventually she developed a steady business as one of the earliest summer boarding houses, continuing well into the 20th century. The Caledonian Republican of St. Johnsbury often listed her boarders' comings, goings, and excursions in its local news columns, and her name is listed in several of the earliest publications promoting the hills of the Northeast Kingdom as a picturesque, healthy destination.

Clara was active in several women's organizations. The Woman's Relief Corps raised funds to benefit Civil War veterans and their families; Clara served as president of the Peacham chapter, and her name is on one block of a signature quilt made as a raffle to raise money for this cause. Brought up in the strict Presbyterian faith in Ryegate, she joined the Peacham Congregational Church in 1865. Her house was a short distance up the hill from the church, and she often served as hostess for church-related social gatherings. Later in life, she was an active member of the Sixty Club, a women's social club for women over the age of 60.

Clara was also active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, listed in the Vermont Directory, and attending the Annual Convention at least once (the 11th annual Vermont meeting held in Brattleboro in 1885), where she served as a local superintendent of the department “Young Woman's Work and Drawing Room.” In Peacham, she served as treasurer, presenting in its 1901 program on the topic of “Sabbath.”

Perhaps most relevant for the history of suffrage, the Peacham WCTU was credited with being the first Union in Vermont to have a franchise department, and to pass franchise resolutions; it is also claimed Caledonia County was the first county to do the same, and that both took the stand before the Vermont state WCTU gave its adherence to it. At the 1891 convention of the Caledonia County WCTU, Clara Bailey gave a report about “Legislative work,” and Miss Laura Moore reported on “the Franchise.”

Clara Bailey and Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Stanton, were thanked by the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association for the gift of a “beautiful flag” in 1894, and Clara did play a role in the movement to gain suffrage for women at the municipal level. From 1884-1917 bills were regularly filed in the Vermont legislature to give municipal suffrage to taxpaying women, only to be defeated. The Journal of the Senate of Vermont recorded that on October 24, 1900, the petition of Clara Bailey and 81 other residents of the town of Peacham was submitted, proposing passage of a bill granting municipal suffrage to women who were taxpayers. It was referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

Clara Bailey did not live to see this bill finally become law in 1917. She died on February 15, 1911 and is buried in the Peacham Cemetery alongside her brother-in-law Alexander Bailey and her daughter Mary Bailey Gracey.


The National Archives of Washington, DC; The Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs 1773-2007, Record group 15, US Civil War Pension Index

Peacham Vermont: Peacham Historical Association Archives. Print, Manuscript, Photograph and Textile collections; Hooker Collection

Vermont Historical Society: Vermont Equal Suffrage Association Papers, VHS MSC 145:12

Peacham Town Clerk's Office, Administrator's Deed Books: Volume 15, Page 420

Caledonian Republican, newspaper of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Local news 1884-1909; Obituary March 1, 1911

Journal of the Senate of Vermont: Wednesday October 24, 1901

Clifford, Deborah P. “The Drive for Women's Municipal Suffrage in Vermont 1883-1917,” Vermont History, No. 47, Summer 1979, pp. 173-190

People of Peacham, by Jennie Chamberlain Watts and Elsie Choate. Montpelier: Vermont Historical Society, 1965

Peacham: Story of a Vermont Hill Town, by Ernst Bogart. Montpelier: Vermont Historical Society, 1948

A Vermont Hill Town in the Civil War: Peacham's Story, compiled and edited by Jutta R. Scott and Michelle Arnosky. Peacham: Peacham Historical Association, 2012

Vermont WCTU Directory. Report of 11th Annual Convention of WCTU Vermont, held in Brattleboro September 30- October 2, 1885. Harvard College Library

The History of Woman Suffrage, by Susan B. Anthony and Ida Hasted Harper.
Volume IV 1883-1900: Chapter LXVII, footnotes 453 [LINK]
Volume VI 1900-1920: p. 660 in chapter on Vermont, Legislative Action [LINK]

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