A Historic Moment in Voting History: November 3rd 1868, 150 Years Ago in the Sierra Nevada

I was recently sipping a beverage in Truckee’s Alibi Aleworks, listening to stories about the town’s past at the wildly un-political “Candidates Gone Wild” variety show, when a detail jumped out at me. It was such an awe-inspiring piece of information that I was taken back to my childhood – the days in the Sierra wilderness, camping with my family, when I would feverishly read tales of brave women with my flickering book light in our old green family tent. I read about 16-year old girls fighting in the civil war, disguised as men; the story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad; and many others that run together in a narrative of women defying the status quo.

charley parkhurst 65d048f6 d357 4051 96bb 96f66c9f481 resize 750Like the stories of these women, the stories of the Sierra Nevada are filled with many dramatic views and swift, slippery, rugged turns, but I think the story of Charley Parkhurst is now my favorite Sierra nugget. Charley was known in the 1800’s in California and the Carson-Truckee-Donner pass areas as an expert, robbery-defying stagecoach driver and world renowned manipulator of the whip – and shockingly, was unmistakably born a woman, as discovered soon after death!

Charlotte/Charley was likely one of the first women to vote in the United States in a national election, 52 years before Congress passed the 19th amendment giving American women the right to vote, on November 3, 1868 – exactly 150 years ago, this November. It is unclear whether Charley/Charlotte would have identified as transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming, but if they did, they would likely have been the first such individual to vote in the United States national election. 

It gives me chills in my elbows to think that, as hundreds of thousands people in our region and beyond receive our ballots over the next two weeks, we have the opportunity to follow in Charlotte/Charley’s footsteps – by casting our solitary, defiant votes to define the next chapter of our nation’s history. But we aren’t solitary, are we? The beauty of democracy is that together we are better than when we are divided; unified, we are stronger than any one individual in office; as a unified groundswell of diverse individuals casting votes, we have power to make real change, the power of the people. 

This year’s election is no small matter. With threats to the integrity of our democracy, like foreign hackers, fake news, apathy, and unconstructive fear, it is more important now than ever to keep the power in the hands of the people. We need diversity and compromise and integrity, and we need representatives that will listen. If you haven’t registered to vote, you can do so here. If you are registered to vote, check and update it here, just in case. If you haven’t voted yet, please do so soon and take the time do do your research. And if you’ve already voted, urge five more friends to register and vote. It is our privilege and power to do so, unlike millions of less empowered peoples around the world.

This November, will you be representing your truth and your hard-won, ever contested United States American privilege by casting your vote?

The story of the American people is the story of underdogs ever turning the tide through the strength of unity and the courage to speak one’s truth in the face of oppressive ideologies. Charlotte/Charley knew, 150 years ago, that through the small individual defiant act of donning the face of a man and casting a vote that they could speak their truth. They chose empowerment and self-actualization over the narrow role that society gave them in order to live the best life they could – and made history in the meantime. 

Today I know for sure, and with deep gratitude, that by donning the face of a woman, a Cherokee craftsman, a Filipino immigrant, an Italian banker, the faces of all my ancestors, and with the small sacrifice of a few hours of fact-checking, that I can proudly stand for what I believe in as I am today – all thanks to the individual votes and the small defiant acts of people like Charlotte/Charley Parkhurst.

Image courtesy Alchetron.com