Pet­ti­coat Rule: When women gov­erned the Town of Wash­ing­ton

‘There was noth­ing stop­ping them, they were in full throt­tle’

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By chris Green Spe­cial to the Rap­pa­han­nock News

Dorothy Hawkins, now 93 years young, made his­tory in 1950 when she be­came part of an all fe­male Wash­ing­ton Town Coun­cil, led by Mayor Dorothy Davis, known as “Dotsy.”

Amer­ica sim­i­larly took no­tice of the town’s unique gov­ern­ment makeup and the press went wild. One en­su­ing na­tional po­lit­i­cal splash la­beled the Rap­pa­han­nock phe­nom, “Pet­ti­coat Rule.”

In fact, Dr. John Snead erected a sign at Wash­ing­ton’s cor­po­rate lim­its: “Cau­tion: You are now en­ter­ing She-Town.”

It is told that a few men in the nearby ham­lets and

hol­lows for­bade their wives to set foot in the town, fear­ing they might get “up­pity” ideas.

An in depth ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Col­liers pointed out that for more than two cen­turies “male politi­cos ruled the town of Wash­ing­ton.”

The Demo­cratic Digest of 1950 quoted Dorothy: “We in­spired women in sur­round­ing coun­ties to get in­volved. Not long af­ter the elec­tions here, Winch­ester had women in county gov­ern­ment.”

The elec­tion of the all-ladies town coun­cil came about when Judge Brooke M. “Snippy” Miller over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion amongst the women on Mt. Salem Av­enue, where they would con­gre­gate on their porches and dis­cuss, among other is­sues, the de­clin­ing con­di­tions of the town — weeds grow­ing along the streets, burned out street lamps, dogs run­ning loose, and plenty more.

“Snippy” heard all he needed to hear. He rounded up six women and put ev­ery last one of them on the bal­lot.

Dorothy re­lated that when “Snippy” ap­proached her she was re­luc­tant, ar­gu­ing that she knew noth­ing about gov­ern­ment af­fairs and meet­ings. “Af­ter one meet­ing,” he re­sponded, “you’ll know about gov­ern­ment meet­ings. I’m putting you on the bal­lot.”

Wouldn’t you know af­ter the bal­lots were counted the coun­cil con­sisted of Ach­sah Dud­ley Miller, Louise Miller Price, Nel­lie El­iz­a­beth Racer, Bob­bie Critzer, Ruby Jenk­ins and Dorothy Hawkins.

Smil­ing slyly, Dorothy re­calls that rather than ac­knowl­edg­ing their sound de­feat, the men who lost what was a con­tentious elec­tion good na­turedly told all that they had ac­tu­ally quit.

Re­gard­less, ush­ered in were six “coun­cil­men.” And the mayor made seven — “four wives, a widow, a sec­re­tary and the town beau­ti­cian.”

The ladies took to task im­me­di­ately, cre­ated a fi­nance com­mit­tee to study city ex­penses and draft a bud­get, a de­vice never be­fore uti­lized by the men. Com­mit­tees were formed to ad­dress burned out lights, and within 24 hours a man was hired to keep the streets clean and the grass down; laws were passed de­signed to keep stray dogs off the streets; mileage signs were in­stalled, and the Civil War mon­u­ment re­paired.

There was noth­ing stop­ping them, they were in full throt­tle. Dorothy re­called that in later years, thanks in part to the town’s new mo­men­tum, the water sys­tem was im­proved, a play­ground was built and street signs were in­stalled de­signed by Peter Kramer, then mayor of Wash­ing­ton.

“He’s such a won­der­ful crafts­man,” she re­marked, and re­layed how quaint and at­trac­tive were the street signs, how per­fectly they fit the char­ac­ter of the town.

Dorothy served on the Town Coun­cil for 34 con­sec­u­tive years. She shared sto­ries of the re­cent town elec­tion and the vis­it­ing politi­cians, telling that she po­litely shooed them away, al­ready de­cided on her vote, that is un­til Hank Gor­fein came to the door and she in­vited him in. She found him de­light­ful, he “wasn’t pushy at all,” and she laughed re­count­ing that he’d told her “he was an old man.” And she re­sponded, “What? You’re kid­ding, you’re just a baby.”

I asked of her fa­vorite mem­o­ries and she was quick to re­spond: “The unity, peo­ple were so united in ev­ery­thing, the churches, to­tal ac­cep­tance of all, there was none of this big­otry and car­ry­ing on, it was a won­der­ful place to raise a fam­ily.”

“I can re­mem­ber,” she added, “when there was a hitch­ing post and liv­ery sta­ble and hog pens in the mid­dle of town!”

Dorothy met her hus­band in the sixth grade, Mil­ton Mor­timer Hawkins, Jr., known as “MM,” but she called him June. When he re­turned home af­ter serv­ing in World War II, he took a po­si­tion with Vis­cose in Front Royal, they mar­ried and started a fam­ily, wel­com­ing two sons Ron­nie and Ste­wart.

She lives to­day in a charm­ing Dutch Colo­nial, with a slop­ing gam­brel roof and clas­sic 1800’s style Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch front doors, one open­ing into the foyer and the other lead­ing into a cozy par­lor. Meet­ing with her brings to mind the iconic Betty White — feisty and smart, ex­ud­ing warmth, gra­cious charm and above all pos­sess­ing more chutz­pah than many half her age.

BY CHRIS GREEN

Dorothy Hawkins and six other women made his­tory in the town of Wash­ing­ton — and in do­ing so were the fo­cus of na­tional head­lines.

In a 1950 Col­liers mag­a­zine photo, the all-woman Town gov­ern­ment: Mayor Dorothy Davis, El­iz­a­beth Racer, Dorothy Hawkins, Louise Price, Ac­sah Miller, Bob­bie Critzer and Ruby Jenk­ins.

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