WINCHESTER – In March 1914, Frederick Manley Ives, one of two candidates for Town Meeting moderator, was elected with a total of 11 votes.
A year later, he ran unopposed and was elected with 705 votes. What caused such an enormous hike in the vote?
It was simply that the method of voting for a Town Meeting moderator was changed with the passage of Article 36 at the 1914 annual Town Meeting.
Hitherto, a moderator was chosen as the first article of business for each individual Town Meeting. If there was more than one Town Meeting in any given year, prior to 1914 more than one person could (and did) serve as moderator within a single year.
The timing of Article 1 of the annual Town Meeting (formerly held in March) varied over the years. By 1895, it was usually taken up early, between 6 and 7 a.m., due to the second order of business being town elections.
Once the moderator was sworn in by the town clerk, he then appointed ballot clerks and tellers, and the meeting proceeded with Article 2, “to choose all usual and necessary town officers.”
While ballots were cast and election results were tallied, all other business was postponed until 7:45 p.m. Understandably, many meeting members did not show up for Article 1.
Before 1914, the most votes Ives received was 12. The fewest votes he ever got was two, for the June 1912 meeting (begun in the evening) when he ran unopposed and the voting was apparently a formality.
Changing the procedure
In 1914, the proposal to include the moderator among those elected annually was taken up during the sixth and final session of the March 1914 meeting.
A favorable motion was made. Former moderator John T. Wilson vigorously opposed it, according to the Winchester Star, “believing that the meeting had no right to bind any future meeting on one moderator. He thought it unconstitutional.”
Vincent Farnsworth favored the motion, saying “it would stop the present farce of election by a few votes at an early hour.”
The debate had nothing to do with Ives himself. A graduate of Harvard Law School with a successful practice, Ives had been chosen as moderator for each of the three years preceding 1914. He would continue to be elected for many more years.
It was the procedure which was under question.
The question was debated back and forth. Town Counsel took exception to the statement that the act was unconstitutional. In the end, the matter was decided on a standing vote which carried the motion 111 to 14.
In March 1915, Ives was duly chosen during town elections to serve for the entire year. This practice is still in effect, due to being included in the Town Charter when adopted in 1975.
The very first meeting of the Town of Winchester was held in the vestry of the Congregation Church on May 7, 1850. John Bolles, one of the incorporators, called the meeting to order (after some remarks on the incorporation and the pleasant features of the town). The first election of town officers occurred, beginning with voting for a moderator. Receiving 80 out of 159 votes cast, Samuel Rice won, thereby making moderator history by being the first.
In 1915, Ives took a place in moderator history by being the first to be elected for the year rather than simply the duration of a single meeting. He served for 15 continuous years (1911-1925), a record matched by his successor George Hayward, who became the first moderator to conduct a Representative Town Meeting (RTM).
The question of adopting the RTM form arose after the 19th Amendment took effect and women voters expanded the number of meeting attendees to a point that Town Hall could not accommodate them all.
Following a committee study and report, a Town Meeting vote, and a petition to the Legislature for a RTM, the General Court passed a bill, ratified by voters in November 1928.
The change to RTM meant that Town Meeting members also had to be elected. Elections were henceforward held on a separate day from Town Meeting, ending the practice of an early morning start to the annual Town Meeting.
In 1972, a new record for continuous years served was set by Harrison Chadwick, moderator since 1956. But, the record for longevity in the office is held by John J. Sullivan, extending from his first election in 1977 through 2014, according him a place in moderator history it would be challenging to surpass.
The current year has seen another resident make moderator history, Heather von Mering, the first woman to run successfully for the office.
Prior to 1920, such an action would not have been possible since women were denied the vote and positions on the major municipal boards (except the School Committee). Their position at Town Meeting was confined to watching from the balconies.
Once the 19th Amendment took effect, women were elected as Town Meeting members and gradually were chosen for various boards from which they had long been excluded. In an article published on Feb. 12, 2018, this newspaper noted that the one remaining elected position without women on its list was Town Meeting Moderator.
That, however, is now outdated history.