From the November 30, 1951 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Standing on Article Fourteen of the Constitution of the United States, the women of Chilmark defended their contention that they should be granted shellfish permits by the selectmen, at the special town meeting Tuesday night held for that purpose, and furthermore won this right by a scant four votes after the question was put to ballot. Immediately after the meeting several of the women lined up in the selectmen’s office to receive their permits.

Although orderly throughout its course, the meeting had several tense moments during the discussion which preceded the closed ballot vote on the issue. An estimated eighty persons filled the small Chilmark town hall to attend the meeting, with a total of sixty-four votes cast, thirty-four votes favoring the measure and thirty against. The entire proceedings lasted less than an hour.

After being elected moderator, Benjamin C. Mayhew Jr. appointed Stanley E. Poole and Marshall Carroll as tellers, and got the meeting underway by ruling that in view of the number of unregistered voters present and by reason of the controversial issue involved, the balloting should be done by closed ballot.

Opening the discussion, Mrs. Donald G. Smith said that after contacting Howard Willard, chief coastal warden, and Francis W. Sargent of the Division of Marine Fisheries, it had been learned that the issuing of shellfish permits was regulated by the state, which in turn authorizes the town selectmen to make their local regulations, so long as they are not contrary to existing law.

Quoting a portion of Article Fourteen of the Constitution concerned with citizenship rights not to be abridged, she maintained that the Chilmark ban on women was such an abridgement. She also quoted a Supreme Court opinion to the effect that a woman, married or unmarried, is a citizen of the state and shall share all duties and privileges thereof.

Discussion was resumed by Mrs. Benjamin C. Mayhew Sr., who said she would like to know, if it is unconstitutional not to issue women permits, how the meeting would change such a condition. Moderator Mayhew said that he had also talked with Mr. Willard and had been advised to follow the vote of the town. He said the selectmen had agreed to abide by the decision of this meeting.

Mrs. Mayhew Sr. then asked if it was not the intention of the state that the board’s decision be accepted, to which the moderator replied that the board has to carry out the majority wish and that the board does not own the scallops. Further interrogated by Mrs. Mayhew as to whether the board could still rule as it wished after the meeting, the moderator said that the board had twice been informed by counsel that they were within their rights.

Questioned by Mrs. Louis Larsen regarding information received by the board from Mr. Willard, the moderator replied that the chief coastal warden had suggested that the board follow the advice of the meeting.

Stating that she believed the selectmen were in good faith in making their regulation, Mrs. Jenkinson said that nevertheless it was discriminatory. It did not appear to be discrimination to her, Mrs. Mayhew said, but rather a matter of “making a fast buck.”

“It looks to me as if a group of people are trying to keep another group of people from making a fast buck,” Mrs. Larsen replied. “I think it’s absurd that there are men here who will vote against this just because their wives can’t go scalloping.”

Stating that he believed that if the measure was defeated it could be corrected by taking it to a meeting of the fishermen, Mr. Carroll said: “I still maintain you are imposing on your state and national rights by restricting women. The state law reads, any citizen of the state.”

Answering Mrs. Jenkinson, who asked if the state regulation did not provide that the town selectmen may make regulations which are not contrary to existing law, the moderator replied that the board would follow the vote of the meeting and that, if the vote proved to be unconstitutional, they would follow the constitution, the same being only commonsense.

Put to vote, the article was carried, and a final article, to see if the town would accept the interest of a $5,000 fund left by the late Stanley King to be used for the town library, also passed, this one unanimously.

Mrs. Jenkinson thanked the selectmen for holding the meeting and said everyone present was fortunate to be living where such a meeting could be held.

Taking advantage of their newly won right, eighteen women scallopers joined the ranks of the Chilmark shellfishermen on the following day. The novelty of the occasion and the after-effects of the struggle on the part of the women to gain this privilege, were the source of considerable good natured jesting among the mixed members of Wednesday’s scallop fleet.

Compiled by Hilary Wall

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