In 1893 the women citizens of Connecticut gained the right to vote for school officials and on educational issues. When Rose Payton registered to vote, it was reported in The Hartford Courant in an article titled: “Women Voters: Ten More Registered; One a Colored Woman.” Who was this trailblazing woman? Payton had come from Virginia with her husband Fountain, and they had a daughter named Lillian. The family lived in Hartford. During her years in Hartford, Payton worked as a laundress and, later, a nurse, while her husband was a cook in Union Station.
The Courant reported that Payton was “a colored woman, the first woman of that race to be registered in Hartford and probably the only colored woman who has registered to date.” Her pioneering act is notable because most women, black or white, did not seize the opportunity to vote at this time. By mid-September in 1893, 58 women had registered in Hartford, including Payton. She was an early registrant, signing up before the first large women’s political rally and Ladies’ Day at the Town Clerk’s office, which resulted in an increase of women voters.
Payton valued having an electoral voice and took time out of her workday to register. She consistently held an interest in exercising her voting rights, and her name appeared every year in Hartford’s City and Town Election’s Lists of Women Voters until 1919. (In 1920 women achieved full voting rights and did not have to appear on lists for just school and later, library issues.)
Payton did not register to vote in Hartford for the federal elections in 1920; she may not have been living in Hartford at the time. The search continues for the full story of one of Connecticut’s earliest women voters.