Old registry book lists names of Milford voters from late 1800s

An old voter registry book recently found in Milford’s Registrar of Voters office offers a neatly written accounting of Milford’s past.

The large book contains a list of people applying to be voters in Milford. The book is titled, “Record of Persons applying for admission as voters in the Town of Milford.”

A careful hand wrote many of the entries, and Republican Registrar of Voters Lynne McNamee speculated the penmanship may be an example of the Palmer Method, which was the second major handwriting technique popularized in the late nineteenth century, according to a University Libraries website.

The neat and consistent cursive writing provides the date, name, residence, age, place of birth and occupation of the applicant, and then whether they were accepted as voters or not.

McNamee pointed out the clear lack of women’s names in the registry, as the log book carries entries from around 1899 to at least 1917, years before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, guaranteeing American women the right to vote.

The book does, however, carry the name of at least one woman, Sarah Clark, age 69, who on Sept. 23, 1899, appeared to be granted the right to vote in Milford, according to the log book. Sarah Clark’s occupation is listed as “housekeeper.”

People in the registrar’s office could only speculate at to why Sarah was granted the right to vote in 1899, and former City Historican Richard Platt said “that is strange.”

According to one online source, while American women did not get the right to vote in federal elections until 1920, a number of states and territories had already given women the right to vote — the first was the Wyoming territory in 1869. Certain cities also had given women the right to vote for particular officials —  in Boston, for example, women could vote for school committee members beginning in 1873, the online source states.

Of course, Sarah seems to be the exception in the Milford book, which is filled with the names of men who worked as carpenters, butlers, machinists, wood turners, farmers and reporters.

In 1902, there is an entry for Thomas Jefferson and Robert Jefferson, who listed their occupations as butlers. Although there is no corresponding proof of ancestry, McNamee said it’s interesting to speculate that perhaps these men were descendants of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who died in 1826.

Other entries inspire curiosity about the people and their life stories, such as the name of a person from Russia who applied to be a voter here in 1914, several years before the start of the Russian Revolution.

There are linemen, fishermen, bakers and bartenders listed in the book.

There is the name of Joseph Perlowski, age 36 in 1913, whose address is recorded as “West End” and his occupation as “saloon keeper.”

There are entries for clerks, grinders, a telephone operator, an electrician, ironworkers and clergymen.

Some people’s street names are listed, and in other cases their address is recorded as a section of town, such as Walnut Beach, Woodmont or Devon.

The registrars found the book recently in an office closet. McNamee said she thinks the book is especially interesting because the city is celebrating its 375th anniversary, and there’s an election coming up.

The registrars are contemplating where the book should go, whether to the historical society or some other place in Milford, where it can be preserved.