Consuelo Northrop Bailey, UVM ’21: A Political Trailblazer

Consuelo Northrop Bailey helped paved the way for Vermont women in politics. Her list of political firsts is impressive. Here we outline her long career and bring it to life with photographs from UVM’s Consuelo Northrop Bailey Papers.

Born in Fairfield, Vermont in 1899, Consuelo Northrop attended the University of Vermont (class of 1921) and law school at Boston University (class of 1925).

A portrait of Consuelo Bentina Northrop from the 1921 UVM yearbook including a short list of her extracurricular activities and interests, emphasizing athletics

Consuelo Northrop’s entry in the 1921 UVM yearbook

Returning to Burlington, Consuelo prepared for the bar exam while working in the office of Judge Alfred L. Sherman. (She passed that October and was sworn in in January 1926, becoming the seventh woman admitted to practice law in Vermont.) Only a few months after graduating from law school, Consuelo announced her interest in the position of Grand Juror for the City of Burlington. Coverage of her candidacy noted her legal degree, debate experience, and work as editor of the school’s legal journal. The City Council appointed her in September 1925. She was the first woman to serve in this role for the city.

In an interview on the day her appointment was announced, City Judge Clarence P. Cowles commented that it was “very fitting that we have a woman for Grand Juror” because their work “may be classed as a kind of social service” in which women are “naturally interested,” while the State’s Attorney would handle serious crimes and contentious courtrooms (Burlington Daily News, September 10, 1925). As grand juror, Consuelo prosecuted cases centering on a variety of issues such as speeding, possession of alcohol (during prohibition), disturbing the peace, and non-support of family dependents.

A formal portrait of Consuelo lightly leaning on the back of an armchair.

Consuelo Northrop circa 1930

There’s no shortage of irony in Judge Cowles’ statement, because Consuelo Northrop was elected State’s Attorney of Chittenden County in 1926 and reelected in 1928. She was the first woman to serve in this role in Vermont. After several years as a prosecutor, “the pendulum of public sentiment had swung so far away from the prohibition law that it was almost impossible to secure a conviction for any offense pertaining to the liquor traffic”[1]. It had also given her experience and insight into prospective legislation to address important issues. She was easily elected to the Vermont State Senate, representing Chittenden County, for a term lasting from 1931 to 1933, at a time when women were scarce in either chamber.

 

Another first came in 1933 when Consuelo, still actively working as a lawyer, was the first Vermont woman to be admitted to practice in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to her other responsibilities,  Consuelo also worked as the personal secretary for U.S. Representative and Senator Ernest W. Gibson from 1931 to 1937 and thus spent part of the year in Washington, D.C. Somehow she found time to join The Little Congress, a debating organization made up of Congressional staffers and Capitol workers, who would consider issues before the real lawmakers, emulating their style and rules.

A photograph of eight adults (six women flanked by two men) standing shoulder to shoulder with the capitol building in Washington, D.C. in the background The men wear dark three piece suits with ties and hold their hats while the women wear skirts suits or long sleeved dresses, hats, and gloves.

Vermont members of The Little Congress. Consuelo is the fourth from right.

A formal portrait of a man wearing a suit and round glasses

Henry Albon Bailey circa 1930

Consuelo Northrop’s time in Washington came to an end in 1937 after experiencing dissatisfaction with the spending associated with New Deal programs and Democratic leadership in general. She returned to Vermont, where she established a private law office in Burlington. In 1940, she married Henry Albon Bailey (1893-1961). He was a fellow lawyer who had previously been Mayor of Winooski and had served in both chambers in the state legislature.

A lifelong supporter of the Republican Party, Consuelo was active in political campaigns as a speaker and successful fundraiser. She was a member of the Republican National Committee from 1936 to 1976. This meant a significant amount of travel across the country to garner support for various candidates as well as work on important subcommittees. She was a delegate to the national conventions in 1936 and 1944.

The 1950s were a very busy time for Consuelo, with service in multiple capacities with little to no break in between. In 1950, she ran unopposed for South Burlington’s seat in Vermont’s House and served from 1951 to 1955. Consuelo was chosen as Speaker in 1953, beating five male candidates, marking another first for women in Vermont politics.

A close up portrait of Consuelo with her right arm raised

Consuelo being sworn in as Speaker of the Vermont House in January of 1953. Her own caption notes that she “never was happier.”

In 1953, Consuelo became Vice Chair of the Republican National Committee and served until 1957. Also in 1953, she was appointed to the U.S. Post Office Advisory Board by President Eisenhower. Vice President Nixon performed the swearing in ceremony.

A group portrait showing several men wearing suits as well as Consuelo Northrop Bailey and President Eisenhower in the center. Everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. The President’s desk is visible in the foreground while two flags and several window treatments are apparent in the background.

Consuelo Bailey with President Eisenhower in the Oval Office

In 1954 Bailey became the first woman in the country elected Lieutenant Governor, having been the first Republican woman ever to run for the seat. This achievement made her the only woman, at that time, who had led both of their state’s legislative chambers.

Consuelo standing at a podium holding a wooden gavel.

Presiding over the Vermont Senate as Lieutenant Governor in 1955

A photograph of Richard Nixon, visible in an obscured profile, stood shaking hands with Consuelo Northrop Bailey in front of a light-colored curtain. She appears to be speaking and he is gently smiling; they are both making eye contact with each other.

Bailey chats with Vice President Richard Nixon.

 

Bailey continued to vigorously promote the Republican Party and its candidates. In 1956 and 1972 she was a Presidential Elector. During the conventions in 1968 and 1972, she was honored to call the roll of delegates during the voting process.

Retiring from the Republican National Committee in 1973, Bailey focused on writing her autobiography, Leaves Before the Wind: The Autobiography of Vermont’s Own Daughter and was able to complete the manuscript before her death in 1976.

 

Note

[1]Bailey, Consuelo Northrop. Leaves before the Wind: The Autobiography of Vermont’s Own Daughter. Burlington, Vt.: G. Little, 1976: 166.

Learn more about Consuelo Northrop Bailey

  • Consuelo Northrop Bailey
    Exhibit created by Professor Melanie Gustafson’s students in HST095: American Women’s History.
  • Consuelo Northrop Bailey Papers, Silver Special Collections, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. Finding aid.
  • Bailey, Consuelo Northrop. Leaves before the Wind: The Autobiography of Vermont’s Own Daughter. Burlington, Vt.: G. Little, 1976.

Contributed by Erin Doyle, Manuscripts and University Archives Assistant

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