State women to be featured at Southington talk

Published on Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:37


SOUTHINGTON - From the publisher of the first American cookbook to the first female governor, author and historian Diana Ross McCain will highlight the accomplishments of four influential Connecticut women March 30 at the Southington Historical Society.

The program “From the Kitchen to the Capital: Four Feisty Connecticut Women” will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. at the at 239 Main St. Copies of Ross’ 2009 book, “It Happened in Connecticut,” which features the women the program will be discussing, will also be for sale.

McCain has been researching, writing and speaking about Connecticut’s history for more than 35 years. She has published numerous books and was on the staff of the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford for 12 years.

“People know about women like Abigail Adams, but nobody thinks anything interesting happened in Connecticut,” said McCain. “However, there have been a lot of interesting and important Connecticut women that they may not know about.”

The March 30 program will cover Amelia Simmons, the publisher of the first American cookbook, Abigail and Julia Smith, pioneers in the women’s suffrage movement, and Ella Grasso, the first female American state governor.

McCain said that Simmons’ book, “American Cookery,” has been described by some as a “second declaration of independence of a sort” as it helped to differentiate American culture from British culture.

“This is the first cookbook written by an American for Americans,” said McCain. “Previously, cookbooks were written by people in England and didn’t include American staples like turkey, pumpkins, cranberries and Indian corn. Most women learned to cook from their parents, but they didn’t write their recipes down. This was a humble-looking, 49-page bound pamphlet, but it was an extremely important contribution.”

Abigail and Julia Smith, McCain said, were elderly women in their 70s living during the 1870s when they found out that their taxes had gone up. And, the only other person in Glastonbury who had their taxes go up was a woman.

“Because women could not vote at the time, they argued that it was taxation without representation,” she said. “When they didn’t pay their taxes, the tax collector confiscated their cows, which were really more like pet cows. They even had names like Bessie. It was really bad PR for the town.”

McCain said that the Smith sisters tried to speak at a town meeting but were not allowed to. They then tried to speak before the General Assembly, but were ignored.

“They were very well educated and savvy PR-wise,” said McCain. “They started sending their letters to the Hartford Courant and the Springfield Republican, which started publishing them. “Since this was around the time of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, their message really resonated.”

Ella Grasso, McCain said, was born in 1919 - when women still did not have the right to vote. However, women were given this right the next year. In 1974, when Ella Grasso was elected as the first female governor in America, it was “unheard of.”

McCain encouraged people to attend the program and learn about “women like us who were trying to get along in a world that is really different.”

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or

Posted in New Britain Herald, General News, Southington Herald on Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:37. Updated: Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:39.