California People


Californian May Have Been 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, 52 years before the 19th (Woman's Suffrage) Amendment. There's a "V" after her name in The Great Register of Santa Cruz County, which indicates she voted. You can see a plaque where she cast her ballot on the side of the Santa Cruz County Central Fire Station 3 at 4747 Soquel Drive, Soquel. Many historians say she was the first woman to vote in a National Election.

Her vote came a year before women in Wyoming Territory were allowed to vote & 22 years before the first state (Wyoming) allowed women to vote.

She usually dressed like other stagewhips—bulky clothes, coat and big hat—and almost everyone thought she was a male, until her death on Dec. 28, 1879. The coroner confirmed the shocking discovery that Charley was a woman & had been a mother. Locked in a trunk under her bed was a baby's red dress. She was known to be especially kind to little girls, giving them candy along her routes.
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 his military leaves in 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, probably, did Grant. The Army man also may have been a passenger on Charley's coaches in other areas of Northern California.

Parkhurst may have successfully helped Grant become President.

She died at 67 from cancer of the mouth, probably caused by years of chewing tobacco. You can visit her grave & monument in what's now the Pioneer Cemetery at 66 Marin St. (B20, Row 6), Watsonville, California. She's buried just 13 miles south of where she cast her historic ballot.

(The historian, a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society, has written & spoken about Charley for more than 50 years. He grew up near one of her stage routes; his grandparents lived in Santa Cruz County & his father, Franklin, once taught at Watsonville High School, not far from where Charley is buried.)

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