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Hasbrouck, Lydia Sayer (1827–1910)

Hasbrouck, Lydia Sayer (1827–1910)

American editor and reformer who was the first American woman to hold elected office. Born Lydia Sayer on December 20, 1827, in Warwick, New York; died on August 24, 1910, in Middletown, New York; daughter of Benjamin and Rebecca (Forshee) Sayer; attended Elmira High School and Central College; married John Whitbeck Hasbrouck, July 1856; children: Daisy (1857–1859); Sayer (b. 1860); Burt (b. 1862).

Lydia Sayer, born on December 20, 1827, in Warwick, New York, was the fifth of eight children of a prosperous farmer and distiller of apple brandy and a descendent of Thomas Sayre, an original settler of Southampton, Long Island. From early childhood, she displayed a fierce independence that would characterize the remainder of her life. For example, she started wearing knee-length skirts and pantaloons, then popularly known as "Bloomers," in 1849, eschewing the cumbersome and uncomfortable traditional dress of the times. But what began as an issue of comfort soon flared into a larger issue of women's rights when she was refused admittance to Seward Seminary in Florida, New York, because of her unconventional outfits.

In 1856, the editor and publisher of the Middletown Whig Press, John Whitbeck Hasbrouck, invited her to participate in a lecture tour about dress reform and soon established a feminist periodical, Sibyl, for her. She became its editor. The first edition appeared on July 1, 1856, and on July 27, Sayer and Hasbrouck were married. (Hasbrouck and her husband would have three children, Daisy, Sayer and Burt. Daisy would die in 1859 at the age of two.) Published biweekly until 1861, Sibyl then became a monthly periodical. It was considered, more than anything else, a dress-reform organ, providing information on the National Dress Reform Association, of which Hasbrouck served as president from 1863 to 1864. The goal of Sibyl was to emphasize the superiority of reform clothing over the normal dress of the day. Under her direction, the periodical was extremely personal, and included information on her family's health, the state of the agricultural endeavors at the family farm, and in-depth editorials on "hygeopathy," which advocated a lifestyle of good eating, exercise, fresh air and frequent baths.

Hasbrouck championed medical training for women, increased educational opportunities, and women's suffrage. When she refused to pay taxes on the grounds that she was not allowed to vote, Hasbrouck found herself in the midst of a tax struggle. A tax collector managed to steal a Bloomer outfit from her home and advertised it for sale to cover the taxes. When an editorial in Sibyl denounced him as a "vulgar sneak," he was apparently shamed into dropping the issue. Hasbrouck, however, continued to fight against unfair taxation. In 1863, she declined to pay a road tax and had to work for several days on a highway repair project.

As time progressed, Sibyl lost momentum, and the final issue appeared in June of 1864. Hasbrouck continued to help her husband edit his newspaper until 1868 when it was sold. The couple worked in reform journalism for a brief time with a periodical entitled the Liberal Sentinel. In 1880, New York enacted a law permitting women to vote for and hold school offices and Hasbrouck was elected to the Middletown board of education, becoming the first American woman to hold an elected office. By the mid-1880s, she was working in real estate and played a prominent role in establishing a block of stores and offices in downtown Middletown. On August 24, 1910, Hasbrouck died in Middletown of paresis and was buried in Warwick.

sources:

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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