(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2020
In a 1980 interview for “The Political Activities of the First Generation of Fully Enfranchised Connecticut Women, 1920-1945” at the Center for Oral History at UConn, Emily Sophie Brown stated that her priorities included “anything concerning humanity,” and “things to do with children.” This emphasis on humanity and care defined her career and many of the organizations she advocated for and represented. Brown altered Connecticut’s history when she became one of the first five women elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 1920. With the passage and integration of the 19th Amendment, the Republican started her long political career in 1921 with her term in the Connecticut state legislature.
Despite her list of impressive positions and a lasting legacy in Connecticut, Brown did not always intend to become a politician. She was born to Reverend Edward Brown and Sophie Smith in New Milford in October 1881. Her religious upbringing and her education shaped her. She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts before she attended Church Training School in Philadelphia to become a missionary. Ultimately, Brown never traveled to China. Rather, she returned to Connecticut, moving in 1910 to Naugatuck, where she remained for the rest of her life. She first traveled there to visit a relative, but it became her home.
Recounting her time in the legislature in the 1980 interview, Brown recollected that her male counterparts “accepted [her]almost as a partner.” House Speaker Frederick Huxford invited her to take his seat in the Speaker’s Chair, where she temporarily presided—the first woman to do so in Connecticut history, The Norwich Bulletin reported on May 21, 1921. She was addressed as “Mr. Speaker” until House Rule Number 14 was suspended to enable the title “Madam Speaker” to be used.
Brown served as clerk of the general assembly’s Committee of Humane Institutions. Historian Carole Nichols, in Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and After in Connecticut (The Haworth Press, 1983) documents Brown’s successful introduction and passage in 1921, with fellow first-time Representative Mary Hooker (R, Hartford), of a bill to create a state child-welfare bureau.
Brown did not run for reelection. Instead, she was appointed by the Connecticut General Assembly as a county commissioner of New Haven County. The commissioners had control over the courthouses, jails, and the “temporary home for children” who were wards of the state in New Haven and Waterbury, according to The Naugatuck Daily News(March 5, 1949). In this position, she published “The County Jail in Connecticut” (Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1926), in which she discussed the needs of those in prison. Brown held this position until 1927.
Brown continued to be active in politics and child welfare, particularly in Naugatuck. She was involved in the League of Women Voters and League of Women Legislators. She served on the board of directors for the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce. She served as vice chairman of the Republican Town Committee in Naugatuck for 16 years, and she championed children’s welfare as a member of the board of the Children’s Center of Hamden from 1929 to 1947, and, in the 1950s, as a member of the Naugatuck Board of Education.
Brown died in 1985 at 103 years old in Naugatuck where she had devoted so much of her life.
Audrey Berry is a student at Lyme-Old Lyme High School. She wrote this for the school’s History Club under the guidance of teacher Aron D’Aquila.
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