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Groundbreaking Political Women

John Conway - Sullivan County Historian
Posted 1/8/21

When Meagan Galligan and E. Danielle Jose-Decker were sworn into office as Sullivan County District Attorney and Sullivan County Court Judge this month, they became the first women to hold those …

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Groundbreaking Political Women

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When Meagan Galligan and E. Danielle Jose-Decker were sworn into office as Sullivan County District Attorney and Sullivan County Court Judge this month, they became the first women to hold those positions in the county's history, and the monumental occasion begs for a look back at some of Sullivan County's other groundbreaking political women from years past.

Of course, it wasn't all that long ago that women couldn't vote at all in New York State. They won that right in 1917, but could not sit on juries until 1937. Even with those two milestones achieved, political progress was slow in coming.

As outlined in past Retrospect columns, and in the Sullivan County Democrat's special section “Celebrating Women's Suffrage,” published in August, 2020, Nellie Childs Smith became the first woman to run for a countywide office in Sullivan County when she appeared on the ballot in the race for Special County Judge in 1927.

Ms. Smith had already made a bit of history in May of 1916, when she had become the first female attorney in the county. She was unsuccessful in her bid to be elected to the bench, but the first woman to win election to a countywide office in Sullivan County would come just two years later.

Susanna Potsch of Jeffersonville, a German immigrant with just an eighth-grade education, was elected Superintendent of the Poor in 1929. She held the office through the end of 1935. Ms. Potsch's successor in the post was also a woman, as Margaret Engert of Mountaindale was victorious in the 1935 election that unseated her.

Millicent C. Shadt Flynn, who was born in Jeffersonville and lived in Roscoe, became the first woman to be elected County Clerk in Sullivan, when she won a special election in November of 1958 following the death of the incumbent Clerk, her husband, Robert J. Flynn, who had died that June. Mrs. Flynn would remain in office for 15 years, retiring at the end of her term in 1973.

Sullivan County was governed by a Board of Supervisors from its official formation in 1809 until the end of 1995, and hundreds of men held the office of Supervisor over the years. No woman held the office, however, until Jean McCoach of Fosterdale was elected in Cochecton in November of 1975.

Democrats had been scarce in Cochecton in the years leading up to Mrs. McCoach's win, as Republicans had a 2-1/2 to 1 edge in voter registration in the town. Nonetheless, running as a Democrat, she ousted the incumbent, Republican Carl Grund.

The Board of Supervisors was replaced as the form of county government in January of 1996, when Legislators were sworn in to represent nine newly formed legislative districts. One of those nine new lawmakers was a woman.

Leni Binder, elected to represent District 7, had been born in Mountaindale, graduated Syracuse University, and had taught Social Studies in the Rondout Valley school district in Ulster County before getting married and moving back to Sullivan County to raise her family. Her run for the legislature was her first foray into county politics. She served on the Legislature until 2012, and in 2002 achieved yet another historic milestone, being sworn in as the first Chairwoman of the Legislature following the resignation of Raymond “Rusty” Pomeroy.

In November of 2000, Olga Parlow of Forestburgh became the first woman elected Sullivan County Treasurer, winning a special election to finish out the term of Daniel Briggs, who had resigned to become County Manager. Mrs. Parlow was re-elected the following year, and served a full four-year term before retiring in 1975.

There have been other groundbreaking political women in Sullivan County, and 20 of them, including the women mentioned here, were profiled in that aforementioned newspaper supplement published by the Democrat. It is well worth the read.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.

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