California People


Californian May Have Been the First Woman to Vote in a National Election

By Craig MacDonald, an historian and Pulitzer Prize nominee.

On Nov. 3, 1868, Stagecoach Driver Charley Parkhurst, 56, voted in Soquel, California in the election which saw Gen. Ulysses S. Grant become President of the United States. Many historians say she was the first woman to vote in a National Election, more than 52 years before Woman's Suffrage.

She always dressed like other stagewhips--bulky clothes, coat and hat--and most didn't know that Charley was a woman until her death in 1879. The coroner made the discovery and determined further that she had been a mother. Also, locked in a trunk beneath her bed was a baby's red dress.

She may have voted in her only National Election because she knew Gen. Grant, who was stationed in California and along the Pacific Coast as an Army lieutenant and captain. Grant visited his brothers-in-law in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during 1852, 53 and 54. He stayed with his wife's brothers--John and Lewis Dent, who had come to California as gold-hunting 49ers--in Knight's Ferry, northeast of Modesto. Parkhurst drove stages to Knights Ferry at the time of Grant's visits.

The Dents talked often to Charley and so, perhaps, did Grant. The Army man also may have been a passenger on Charley's coaches in the Sierra.

Parkhurst may have successfully helped Grant become President.

(Editor's Note: The historian wrote the first nationally-published book on Charley Parkhurst in 1973: "Cockeyed Charley Parkhurst--The West's Most Unusual Stagewhip," by Craig MacDonald, Filter Press Wild and Woolly Books. His father, Franklin, once taught at Watsonville High School, not far from where Charley is buried.)


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