Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Marking the 80th year of the ratification of the 19th Amendment for Women's Suffrage in 1920, we are gathered at the home of Deborah Barr, President of the League of Women Voters, at 606 Strawberry Hill Road on May 12, 2000. Joining me are long time members of the League - Barbara Anthony, 17 Monroe Place; Nancy Beecher, 1080 Monument Street; Louise Haldeman, 384 Hayward Mill Road; and Annabelle Shepherd, 210 Park Lane -- League members who have participated actively in town government. The League of Women Voters was formed the year Women's Suffrage was enacted and became a very enabling piece of legislation.
Debbie Barr - I wanted to just give a little bit of background as to how we got this idea to do this program. Last fall in November 1999 the State and National League had notified us that there was going to be a public television special done by noted film maker, Ken Burns, talking about the suffrage movement. It was going to be called "Not for Ourselves Alone, the Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony."
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were two of the most important figures in women's rights. The two of them fought for over 50 years to repel laws that allowed slavery and barred all women from public speaking, having a profession, property ownership, child custody, and of course, the vote. Women were enfranchised in 1920 by the 19th Amendment more than a decade after the death of Stanton and Anthony, and 144 years after the Declaration of Independence. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848 delivered a Declaration of Sentiments at a conference in Seneca Falls, New York. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal.
For most of history women lost their rights when they married. Her husband became owner of all property including her wages, had custody of their children and could legally punish her as he saw fit. The power of the vote, the basis on which our democracy is founded, was denied women, and why was this so important? Because the vote gave us a voice in decisions made by government, the right to control property, custody of our children, control of our bodies as our own, and ultimately for equal access to educational, employment and economical benefits.
The State League was founded in 1920, and the Concord League was founded in 1930. We're here today to celebrate the role of women in public life here in Concord and Carlisle. League members often joined the League because of their strong interests in our community and our country, a belief that we must work together to improve society, and a willingness to put those beliefs into action. We still face the same issues in some ways as the women did in 1848 -- freedom from sexual harassment, prevention of violence against women, the quality of educational opportunities including sports. Today we will hear from leaders in the League and in Concord. Our speakers will discuss key issues in education, state, country, and local governments, fiscal and personnel policies, open space and housing. These descriptions will indicate changes in women's role over time, and the impact women have on our community. But some things are still the same. We still juggle family, community, and work.
Barbara Anthony - I came to Concord in 1951 because I had been hired to teach 4th grade at the Peter Bulkeley School, and after three years of that I decided I really preferred to be a full-time housewife. It seems unusual nowadays to think of that. In the fall of 1954, I noticed there was an open meeting of the League of Women Voters and the meeting was in Monument Hall down in the basement as I remember. I went to that meeting and enjoyed it. I went to a unit meeting at Lee Gillespie's house on Monument Street and somebody nailed me to be on the League Board, and asked me if I'd like to be bulletin editor because their bulletin editor had gotten pregnant and was withdrawing. I don't think I had been a member of the League for more than a month before I was asked to be on the League Board. I continued to do that and various other jobs including finance at one point, raising funds, and at one point I was a Vice President. When I decided to run for School Committee in 1964, I had to resign from the League Board, but of course, never from the League.
Nancy Beecher - I'll make one comment because I'm always doing this, it is one of my characteristics. You were not interested in being a housewife, you were interested in being a homemaker. That was one of the things that I used to talk about -- the terms. Language has clearly been one of my areas of interests. I came to Concord in the middle ‘50s and lived in the Conantum neighborhood which was a very warm, friendly neighborhood. I had grown up in a small town in West Virginia in which the sense of community was so strong, so community was immensely important to me. I joined the League right away. One of the wonderful things about that neighborhood was that you had these groups of mothers who would got out and do things, and other groups would take care of the children at the same time. It was a lovely mutual support situation. I became active in several areas with statewide campaigns that a number of us were involved in -- reducing the powers of governor's council, reducing the size of the legislature. The area I became specifically involved in with the state board in the middle and late ‘60s was in the area of civil service and public personnel administration. That pulled me more and more into state involvement, which I guess we can talk about at another point in time. I became local League president in 1969, and then before I had finished my term was asked by Governor Sargeant to serve on and be chair of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission entirely because of the work I had been doing with the League of Women Voters, testifying and working for change in the civil service and personnel laws.
That got me out of the local League for a while and I did a lot of state and national work with a very strong focus in my case on fairness and openness in the public personnel system, civil service system. I had been only for a very brief period of time on the Civil Service Commission when a case was filed against the Civil Service Commission, and it is known as Castro vs Beecher and that case went into discussion and was eventually settled in 1973. The reason for the Beecher name is that I was chair of the Civil Service Commission, but it was against the Commission's policies that were established by law, and I had come in at Governor Sargeant's request to change those policies, so I was working with the plaintiffs to resolve the problems and resettle the case. It was a very good push to bring that about. That was my involvement in the early ‘70s. After I left the state, I did various other things and came on the Town of Concord Personnel Board, and there we worked on a number of issues that Louise has carried on also. I've been involved in a number of things focused on the disadvantaged and getting into the civil service system. A strong focus was opening up the police department to minority people, changing the examination system so that women could become involved. Then even here in Concord, we had a fair housing plan that Annabelle was involved with when she was a member of the Board of Selectmen. In 1979 we had an affirmation plan adopted at the time I was chairing the Personnel Board and Peg Purcell was chairing the Board of Selectmen. So we got involved in a lot of things opening up public employment, state and local, to a lot more people.
Annabelle Shepherd - I moved to Concord in 1969 and I was amazed at the strange government. I had never lived close to a capital before where the politics are sort of in your face every day in the newspaper. I thought I've got to learn about this, and so immediately I thought the League of Women Voters must be the place to go. I went to a meeting, and right away I was asked to be on the Fiscal Policy Committee. This was not the finance committee, this was fiscal policy to discuss where the money comes from, where the money goes, and how it is distributed. It sounded all right to me and I was willing to learn. In 1970 I was asked to be on the State Fiscal Policy Committee of the League. That's how we got involved in the graduated income tax, and I can tell you probably more than you want to hear about that. It failed despite all our efforts, and the guff we took at talk shows and op ed pages and so forth. The second thrust of our State League involvement was the distribution and the equalized municipal grant that we worked so hard on the formula in an effort to counteract the state mandate that we could not depend so much on property tax for funding education, that we had to get more state funding which is also impetus for the graduated income tax. We were relying much too much on property tax to raise money and it made unequal educational opportunities when you're contrasting poorer municipal older cities with the wealthier suburbs. We worked very hard on that and had it adopted by the lottery fund instead of the educational fund and the League opposed the lottery fund vehemently. At that point the lottery was supposed to raise $60 million and it now raises $730 million, and it is still distributed to the cities and towns on the basis of the equalizing municipal grant that the League constructed.
The graduated income tax involved an initiative petition. That was the only way it could be done. It had to be constitutionally built because it was established in Massachusetts, the first income tax, in 1916 and it was established as a flat tax, tax on earned income and unearned income. It didn't matter whether you were bagging groceries in a grocery store or whether you were president of Digital, you paid 5%. It didn't start out at 5% but it was at this time. The League said we need a more progressive tax. We never considered piggybacking on the federal tax, and those who have done your state income tax probably think why on earth can't I just take a percentage? They never even thought about it. For some reason the state legislature never wanted to lose control. They wanted to tax Massachusetts bank interests at a different rate from other bank interests. That was to help the housing. They always had a little agenda behind what they did.
The legislators were really in favor of this graduated income tax but they couldn't just pass it. They approved it at a constitutional convention and it went to a vote. The legislators were very happy to have the people have the vote. That gave them an out for raising taxes. I must say in those days the legislators were not concerned with that any more than they are now. The very people who would have benefited from this graduated income tax, teachers, workers, health care workers, simply couldn't understand that their taxes were going to be raised. They said oh, no, the state legislature will raise the taxes and we'll all pay more. They looked at it as a guise for just raising taxes. We appeared at talk shows and we were taken apart because we couldn't guarantee this. I couldn't guarantee that the legislature down the road would not raise the rates. We were called tax and spend. The League really took a beating. Our executives, and we had quite a few in this town, spoke to me about how could I possibly support this. They denied they opposed it because they personally would have to pay more. They said new businesses will not come to Massachusetts if we have the graduated income tax. That's when they coined the word "taxachusetts."
In 1976 the graduated income tax failed to pass after all our efforts and our straw hats and our campaigning. Again it was voted in 1994 and it failed again. I can tell you more about the equalized municipal grant another time.
We all approve, I think, of the fact that our federal taxes are mildly progressive, they are different rates, even though it is not quite as progressive as it used to be. But, for some reason it was this idea that the legislators were in control of it and that they secretly have an agenda to raise more money. They don't like what they have but they are afraid of change.
Louise Haldeman - I moved to Concord around 1974, but I did come to Concord as a full-fledged League member. I had lived in the Town of Lexington for about 12 years before that and we sort of outgrew our house and could afford a house in Concord which maybe we could not now. I had joined the League in Lexington. I had found myself a young mother with a baby at home and I needed some intellectual companionship and there was an advertisement in the paper of a League meeting and I went. Somebody started talking to me about county. I said even though I had been here for a while I still do not understand what the county does in Massachusetts, and the next thing I know I was in the county government study which was a state study. From that study which was very interesting came a study of the judiciary because that was an outgrowth of the county study. We discovered that one of the things that counties did do was the court system. It was interesting because we did learn, which subsequent events have proved, that while certain counties for example Middlesex did not seem to have much of a function as a county, the counties in the Berkshires and the Cape and so on did function as counties, and indeed it took another several years before somebody acknowledged that.
In any case I served on the Judiciary Committee and I was also board member in the Lexington league and did various things including the bulleting back in the days when you typed it on what we called a gelatinous mass which had to be taken in and copied.
I moved to Concord and somebody had tipped off the Concord League so I found myself a member before I even found the League. But I have been involved in several things here in Town in the League and indeed some of the judiciary studies are still going on. I served as President of the Concord League. I've served on the board. I did do the bulletin after I got a computer. I have also been most recently very involved in State League. I have chaired a three year study on special education, and I am also a member of the Fiscal Policy Committee. I left the League board when I ran for School Committee, but before that I was on the Finance Committee. After the School Committee, I went on the Personnel Board.
The League was very much opposed to Proposition 2 1/2. I was elected to the School Committee just about the time it had passed. I was in the audience but not yet a member of the Board the day after it had passed. The School Committee was looking at the things it was going to have to take out of the budget to meet 2 1/2, and the room was full of indignant people who voted because they thought the legislators were being paid too much, and I will say parenthetically we don't pay our legislators a whole lot of money. But, they never seemed to understand that it was going to have local application. The schools did have to go through, which I think largely were successful, some major changes in the block schedule at the high school. There were reductions in program, there was the institution of music fees which have grown. It was at a later date my task to explain at Town Meeting why we had user fees. At that time the user fee that we chose was about $25 a year. It has grown a great deal. I was able to point out that the price was about the same as a lift ticket then and that it was about half a Grateful Dead album. When the audience heard that they thought one less Grateful Dead album might work. It was the beginning of a move away from providing everything. There were more things that had to be changed. The lunch program became self-supporting. The goal was to make adult ed self-supporting. There were other things that were moved to a point where they had to pay for themselves. Indeed the town at that time went into the Enterprise Fund making things that we now have to pay their own way. I think probably the other thing that helped the schools at that point and it wasn't just Concord, it was everywhere, we were in a period of rapidly declining enrollment. We were going to have to close a school anyway and perhaps the fact that 2 1/2 had passed made it easier to close a school than it might have been otherwise. We weren't the first town to close a school. It was going on all around us. Every time a school closed, anybody who had been at that school was out there crying because that's where they had been nurtured, but oddly enough once the school closed, people were able to go on. The fact that we simply couldn't afford to keep it open and at that point we had four buildings that were sort of half full and it is not efficient. You're having staff for four buildings, janitors, principals, everything, you had very odd fluctuations in class sizes because you may not have a full set of first graders at one class, so by combining you use space more efficiently. That also gave people the idea that 2 1/2 hadn't hurt them very much, but as we moved later into a decade of enrollment beginning to rise, I think we were feeling the restrictions of 2 1/2 even more. This was in the ‘70s that the enrollment was beginning to turn around.
I was saying to another league that I was asked to speak to recently on special education, and I was talking about this particular issue and pointing out that sitting on the school committee and kind of looking down the wrong end of the telescope as it were, you realize the newborn nurseries were beginning to have more children in them. But they weren't going to hit the schools for another five years. It's sometimes very hard to convince the public that they are there until they are there. All schools or institutions need some lead time. When you say we're going to need a new classroom, there isn't any way to put it there the next day. So you have to allow probably a year, and therefore the town will invariably say oh, we don't need it, they're not really there. Then of course, you get to where they are meeting in closets, and people say why didn't you build a classroom? That is not limited to Concord, that is a universal human condition, and anyone who has served on a school committee in that period will tell you essentially the same story.
Annabelle Shepherd - I think this was closer to 1980 because as a selectman we had the joy of sitting and listening to the parents who wanted their Ripley School and Alcott School to all stay together, they did not wish to go to Willard across Route 2. I had to sit there and listen to that as if when they had to go across Route 2, it was like sending them to Siberia. It worked and it didn't work because Alcott eventually got terribly overcrowded and eventually they redistricted. But for the moment...
Louise Haldeman - They did a little redistricting around the edges but mostly we avoided a major redistricting, around 1982 or so. I will give full credit to the President of the Alcott and Ripley PTG, both of them league members, the parents worked together and they discovered that they did know each other. Judy Walpole, I believe, was the President of the Alcott PTG at the time and as she pointed out, people did go to the same church in many cases, they ate at the same restaurants, they went to the same markets.
Annabelle Shepherd - But that was Ripley and Alcott and they wanted to stay together. It was just nobody wanted to go to Willard.
Nancy Beecher - Betsy and I could testify that our children went to Willard School and they thrived and it was the best school in town. We lived out there.
Louise Haldeman - One of the things the School Committee tried to do, and I think it's been fairly successful in doing, and that is there was a period where there were kids in the town who went to every school in town because of the building. Therefore what we had said was we know there's going to be redistricting, it's impossible not to do that, but we will try to work it out that we don't have to redistrict more than once in four or five years. A student may expect at some point in their elementary years to be redistricted but it's only going to happen once. That was not a bylaw but it was a general policy. This is assuming you don't have a tornado or something of that sort. Later on we did do a redistricting, and again I remember people whose buses would have to cross Route 2, and we pointed out if you live on my side of Route 2 when you go to high school your bus will cross Route 2, and if you live on this side, when you go to Middle School, your bus will cross Route 2. In any case I find people get very emotional, and then after it happens, it all works out. A lady called me regularly to tell me her child would be isolated. I said his friends on his street will all be going to the same school. She said he doesn't have anybody his age on the street. I said he'll meet some kids when he gets there and he did. I will give her full credit for calling and saying he met the nicest bunch of people and he's got some really great friends. He would have made friends at the other school too, it's part of going to school. These things work out, but they are very emotional at the time and particularly if it's somebody with their first child. People with older kids realize people can manage. There have always been some of these issues and I can guarantee they'll come back again.
Barbara Anthony - In my experience on the School Committee, the kids are fine, the teachers are fine, but it's the parents who got upset on behalf of their children. The children are a lot more flexible than they realize.
Louise Haldeman - I can remember saying in Town Meeting after I was off the School Committee that such and such wasn't going to be an issue unless the parents chose to make it so, and I got a round of applause.
Barbara Anthony - I was on the School Committee in 1964 and the ‘60s were a time of great society change. In 1951 Concord was still a very rural town, it wasn't very suburban yet. Some of the classrooms still had the desks and chairs screwed down on the floor, and then some of had moveable furniture. Some of the teachers were really distraught in the ‘50s when their nice screwed-down-on-the-floor furniture was taken away, and they came back in the fall and found they had moveable furniture in their classrooms. But they coped. It was definitely still a small town. There were three schools in 1951, Peter Bulkeley, Harvey Wheeler and the high school, which was in the 1929 building which is now the Emerson Umbrella. But Alcott and Thoreau were in the process of being built in 1951 and they did open. By the time I came on the School Committee in 1964, there were five elementary schools, Alcott, Thoreau, Harvey Wheeler, Ripley and Willard, and the junior high was then in that 1929 building. We had in that time voted to regionalize nine through twelve with Carlisle, and the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School had been built on the site of former town dump. In 1964 to 1970 when I was on the School Committee, the school population was still expanding.
The first big issue on my School Committee was how to house the 7th and 8th graders. The big campaign issue was whether to expand the 1929 Emerson Building perhaps with a bridge across Hubbard Street so that the junior high schoolers could get over to the Hunt Gym and Emerson playground safely or whether to build on Old Marlboro Road where some land had been acquired, but the funds which were to asked for to build that junior high school were voted down in 1963. So in 1964 the hot issue was where would the junior high school be. It was definitely talked about as being a junior high school, 7th and 8th. We even had another inconclusive vote in 1964 in March, and then a study committee appointed to review all of this and they came back to a special town meeting in May of ‘64 recommending the Old Marlboro Road site where the Sanborn School is now.
Another big issue that came before the School Committee when I was there was introducing the Metco Program to Concord. We held a hearing but according to the Town Report it was attended by more than 1000 people. This was sometime between February and May 1966. The hearing was at the Sanborn School and I don't know if that holds 1000 people, but there were a lot. I think the big thing was that we committee members received lots of mail, lots of petitions for, petitions against, many phone calls, it really was a very divisive issue. The people who were opposed to it of course had reasons other than that they didn't want little children from Boston coming to school in Concord. But I heard discussions about our children are going to catch diseases from them. I was very tempted to tell them that my daughter had gotten pin worms at the Willard School when she was in kindergarten and there weren't any children from Boston who brought that. It was in May 1966 that we voted unanimously to take 25 Metco students in grades 9 and 10 starting in the fall. By 1969 there were 50 Metco students in the schools, and I don't know how many there are now but many more than that I hope.
The next issue that came up was the Sanborn Junior High School population in 1967 was threatening to get so big that we had a special town meeting in November on school building needs. Again there was a thought let's make the Emerson Building into a second junior high school. Instead there was a vote for an addition to the Ripley School or a new elementary school on Old Pickard Road. That was the birth of the Peabody School, named for Elizabeth Palmer Peabody the founder of the kindergarten movement in this country.
The most contentious issue in my tenure was the introduction of a family life and sex education program for kindergarten through 12th grade. A committee was formed in 1967 and there were representatives from independent and parochial schools, from all the churches, the PTAs, family service from Emerson Hospital, and Mary Calderone from Seicus came to speak at an open meeting at the high school. The proposed curriculum was voted in 1969 after a two-year study. But that was really the subject we were subjected to a lot of anonymous mailings, some of it hateful, the usual barrage of phone calls, petitions, semi-hysterics and a few other things. That was really unpleasant because there was a very hateful atmosphere about the whole business of sex and family life education. But the program was instituted and nobody seems to have suffered very much.
In my six years, we acquired a new Superintendent, and initiated a 6th, 7th & 8th grade middle school, which was another big debate issue. So we ended up with a middle school in Peabody and Sanborn buildings, which one was built as a elementary school and the other as a junior high. We negotiated some innovative teacher salary scales. We had team teaching, classrooms without walls, many programs for independent learning. I was particularly interested to come across the effects of those sort of stresses of the larger world that were written up in Superintendent Sayre Euhler's 1969 report in the Town Report. He described the year as one of conflict and confrontation for CCHS in the areas of student relations and student control. He listed the war in Vietnam, black-white issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence as a means of action as being issues influencing adolescent behavior that cause concern among parents and staff. That really does sum up the changes between 1951 when Concord was kind of a quiet country town and 1970 when my term on the School Committee ended.
Louise Haldeman - I think we sometimes have this sense that Concord is protected by divine decree, but point in fact, it does move along with the rest of the world. I remember a statement made by somebody in the school administration who was trying to recruit somebody else, and he said this is a fascinating town. It is a major metropolitan metro-west town which likes to think it is an early 19th century farming village. I thought he did have something there. We're very proud of our heritage, but we all live very much in the present world. I lived in Lexington when Metco was accepted, and it was many of the same things going on. There were many hopes that the program, not all of which were realized I'll have to say but once it was there, seemed to go along quite well.
Barbara Anthony - The thing that seemed sad to me was the Metco program was established as a stopgap until the Boston Public Schools were better schools. It was really meant just as a safety valve. It goes on and on and the Boston Public Schools really aren't better, which I think is really sad. Getting back to the business of the Vietnam War, and so forth, there really was a lot of difference between post-World War II Concord and Concord in the Vietnam era.
Annabelle Shepherd - When we moved here in 1969, for a while I likened the education that my last son was getting here, and it was weird at that time, and the education that his three older ones had received in Connecticut. That shows my mind limitations because I left that school doing just fine and I'm not sure they were doing just fine in 1969 and the early ‘70s. But partly it was Concord's growing period. My son started in at Emerson, the 1929 building. Peabody was supposed to be open, but it wasn't open, so they moved there in January 1970. During this time at the Concord-Carlisle High School there were three principals in four years. I really think it was quite disruptive, it was overcrowded so they had open classrooms. When he was a sophomore in high school, he was sent back to Emerson building and he had his sophomore year at that building and Hunt Gym. This was a very tumultuous time, but it wasn't just Concord. That I think is what some of us kept having to think of. I can remember after one year we said to Bill maybe you should go to Belmont Hill School. Maybe this wasn't quite the school system that we thought it was. Bill said he had made his adjustments.
Louise Haldeman - I think it was that multiple switching around that I mentioned earlier when I was on the School Committee we said we want to minimize frequent redistricting as much as possible. That was fresh in people's memories that it had not worked well and the least disruption the better, understanding it would have to happen occasionally.
Nancy Beecher - I think one of the other things we need to think about, we've talked extensively about those educational issues and how in some ways even though that was a difficult era, the issues then are similar to the issues now. I think of other ones in the town that we're dealing with now that we were having to deal with then. Of course, housing was one. Availability of affordable housing, nondiscrimination in housing, land use planning, all of those things we were working then. And indeed, I was reminded recently about the fact that various people have been working on Route 2 for goodness knows how long, and it's interesting how you have an association of certain places with certain people. Whenever we come to Baker Avenue extension, I think of Annabelle Shepherd.
Annabelle Shepherd - It was a very interesting thing, you know. This was about 1985 because I was selectman from 1980 to 1986. I drove over one day right to the top of that hill and I looked down at the Gen-Rad parking lot which at that point was full and over here was the doctor's building and the road ended right there. I thought all of these people who are trying to get home if they're going west, they have to go down through West Concord, Commonwealth Avenue and out to the rotary. I thought if I had a wheelbarrow, I could fill that right there. It was just a short distance around that curve. I must say the GenRad people were wonderful. David Winstanley who owned the two new buildings at the top of the hill was wonderful. He was very cooperative. He gave the land to do this. The doctors were awful. There were some pediatricians, and they said you know our parents when they come here are very upset, we just really don't want them having to go down around that corner. They wanted them to go out onto Route 2 at Baker Avenue. Well, I must say I have seen those doctors since and they have said, you were absolutely right. But eventually it happened and I didn't quite have to use my wheelbarrow to fill it in. Trust the state to complicate things a little. My idea had just been a one-way coming out to get these people to go west. Now the state got a hold of it and Fred Salvucci and made it into a full-fledged intersection with lights and all of that. And I must say it has all worked.
I have a wonderful picture of me dedicating this crazy little stretch of a street. It was so obvious, but have you ever tried to convince somebody of what you thought was obvious. It's not easy.
Louise Haldeman — Another set of lights that proved helpful are the lights in West Concord center. Miriam Coombs played a leading role. At the corner near the library in West Concord and also in West Concord by the shopping center -- when we moved to Concord, there was no lighting and no way to tell who had the right-away. It was terrible traffic mess. The town appointed a committee (West Concord Study Committee), and they recommended lights in two places and everyone including the then Town Manager was sure they really wouldn't work. Town Manager, Steve Sheiffer, said publicly that they will be petitioning them down in six weeks. Well, to everyone's surprise, they work just fine.
Annabelle Shepherd — Because of my work at League of Women Voters, Bert Newbury appointed me to the FinCom. There was no other reason he would have appointed me. This was in 1972 and I hadn't lived here very long. I served one term and started my second term and Paul Flynn asked me to be on the Board of Assessors. They were having a terrible time because they were under the gun of a state mandate to value the town at full and fair cash value, and it had not been done for 20 years. They had valued new property as it was being built. But if you just stuck in your house and lived there and you paid $15,000 for it, you were still taxed at that rate even though the value of it was now $85,000. So I was put on the Board, and it was a very, very difficult time. We were under the gun and how we were going to do it we didn't know. They voted $72,000 to do it. They vetoed or the town meeting failed to pass $150,000. We got a group from the City Planning Department at Harvard, students, to come out as one of their projects, and they were to develop this computer program that was going to set up and valuate homes on the basis of sales in that area. Okay, that's swell. They said Annabelle, if we had only known. If we had a town like Randolph where every house is valued within $125,000 and $175,000. At that point we had a house in Concord, and I can tell you it wasn't White Pond which was also a very difficult area, valued at $19,000 on up to $1,200,000. There was that kind of range. Now you try to develop a computer program to reflect that. What we had to do is to get enough sales in each area to show how much a house is worth because we had tremendous flack particularly from older people who didn't understand. They bought their house 30 years ago and they hadn't done anything to it and why we were doing this? That was one problem and the other problem was open land. All of the open land owners looked at us and said, you can't do that. I've got 50 acres but I'm not going to build on it so maybe there were 10 buildable lots there and we were going to have to assess it at face value. We were getting it from every single side. Some of our solutions were to set up conservation restrictions, and if they would tell us they wouldn't develop it for 10 years, they would get a 50% reduction and for 25 years, they would get a higher percentage. If they told us they wouldn't develop it forever, put that on the deed and then it was down to 10%. That was something we started then. At the same time the state put in 61A, which gave the farmers farm land exception. But we had to convince the farmer's to apply for it. And they have to establish that every year which they still do. It was to keep somebody from well, having 20 acres and putting three tomato plants out and saying I'm now a farmer. So there were some safeguards. That's why now when you see a farmer is going to sell his property for development, the town will say we have first rights. That comes from 1978 when that was put in. I lasted through that for one term and a little more and then I refused the appointment and I went back to school at Babson to get my MBA. Then I ran for Selectman in 1980 and served until 1986.
In those days I started on the League Fiscal Policy Study Committee. We had a recorder, a resource person, a leader and three units. Our local League had to come to consensus on the graduated income tax before we could say we support that. It was a structured process and it was demanding on personnel.
Barbara Anthony — I noticed in this article that Annabelle brought in from 1970 talking about the unit meetings on fiscal policy. There were five unit meetings and each of them had besides a hostess, a discussion leader and a resource person plus the people who went. I think the thing that really seems like bygone days to me is that all of us are listed by our husband's names. I noticed in another of these pictures that we were all wearing skirts.
Nancy Beecher — I think we're aware of the fact now, of course, a big difference between those years and the present one is that at that time I think none of us were employed outside the home for pay and most young women are now, and that has changed things tremendously.
Louise Haldeman — I was thinking of the time actually when I was serving on the School Committee from 1981 to 1989, we went through a period where there were fewer and fewer mothers at home which began to change their other demands on the school system. Certain things that you would assume the parents would take of. The question of well, somebody has to watch my kid at 3:30 because I'm not there to do it.
Barbara Anthony — More and more children were coming home to empty houses.
Annabelle Shepherd — The custom of no more than two terms for selectmen was long standing but Anna Manion voiced it again. It has worked so perfectly. If I haven't had a good idea in six years, don't bother electing me again. No matter how invaluable some people feel they are or some people will tell you they are, it has been a wonderful thing.
Nancy Beecher — We have been members of the Massachusetts Selectmen's Association and the League of Cities and Towns and all and this is a unique thing for Concord. It's an unwritten rule.
Louise Haldeman — We are very dependent upon appointed people here too. I think there are so many communities that elect everyone. For example, the town of Wellesley, the Planning Board, etc. are all elected. In a sense you have a built-in system when people are standing for election. When you are appointing people and you say you're not going to appoint for more than two full terms, you know there is some turnover, and furthermore you're telling the rest of the community, hey you guys have to step up and do your part. You can't ask the same people to do it forever. I broke the mold by serving three terms on the School Committee, but frankly at the end of my second term, no one came forward until after everything was over. Then there was a person who was a very able person who stepped forward, she had been at the caucus and had gotten some signatures, and then there was a question whether I should withdraw. Some people said, well, she may be fine but you're simply going to hand her the election and we don't know who she is. At that point I said I was going to run, and I hope you're going to run too but she decided not to run.
Annabelle Shepherd — You bring up a very interesting point. It is not written down anywhere, but it also is not written down that your appointees are appointed for two terms and I think some people forget that. This is the only safeguard that some appointing person hasn't made a mistake. In our attempt to get new people in and involved which we should do, it seems to me it is a very good thing that at the end of three years, that position can be revisited.
Louise Haldeman — I think there were one or two times when people weren't reappointed who would have liked to be. The one issue that is a little gray area sometimes is the person who is appointed to fill somebody's unexpired term then there is the question well, they only served one year and that isn't a full term. Their willingness to go on is a factor too.
Annabelle Shepherd — Steve Sheiffer was Town Manager when I was selectman. Paul Flynn was Town Manager when I was on the Board of Assessors. Steve was a very strong Town Manager and he was quite a remarkable man. He never liked to be surprised. Maybe none of us like to be surprised, but I quickly learned if I had what I thought was a good idea I would run it by him first. We'd talk about it and we'd think about it and then when I brought it out, it was fine. If I opened my big mouth without that, Steve's answer was no.
Barbara Anthony — One thing I realized that's changed since I started on the School Committee is the open meeting law. I don't know when it was enacted but I think when I first was on the School Committee, we could go into executive session just because we felt like it. But now the idea that every subcommittee has to not only post the notice of their meeting but hold the meeting in a public place, an awful lot of the town's business used to be done at the Colonial Inn bar after the Selectmen's meeting and after the School Committee meeting.
Annabelle Shepherd — Well, in the summer time before we got air conditioning, the Selectmen adjourned to Anna Manion's screened porch many times.
Louise Haldeman — It was before my time on the FinCom but I am informed that the FinCom frequently met in the Colonial Inn bar. One of the smartest things the town did was when they renovated the red brick building, they put in air conditioning. I can remember that when the schools were in the process of relocating their administration to the Ripley building in order to free up some space for the Council on Aging in the Peter Bulkeley building, there was all this fuss about administrators having air conditioning units. I would get these telephone calls in the hot summer. I finally did say I will not take any calls from anyone unless they can promise me that they have no air conditioning in their place of business. It dropped off considerably but there were people who didn't. It was sort of "they don't need that stuff."
Nancy Beecher — There are many ways in which the League of Women Voters, both locally, statewide and nationally, has contributed very usefully, and there is a Guide to Open Meetings that was put together by the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts back in 1986. It was put together under the funding of the Lotte Scharfman Memorial Fund. I remember serving on the state board with Lotte.
Louise Haldeman — The open meeting law did not come into effect until the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. One of the things that the League was then doing was kind of helping people to remember what they could and couldn't do under the open meeting law and remind people they have a perfect right to be there. There are some gray areas. The law is specific what you can do in executive session, and I think it works very well 99% of the time. There are always one or two cases that involve young people that are difficult to be done in public. At least in terms of the memory of a school committee person as an example, voting to admit a tuition-in student to the schools and this person had been involved in an unfortunate incident somewhere else, but they needed a new start. And another case was where there was a terrible domestic incident and it would have been nice to not have to name people publicly. In one case the reporter understood that and didn't publish the student's name, and in the other case it was revealed. I don't think it was a big deal, but it would have been nice to not have to discuss that in public. That's the only thing I can ever remember that I felt if we had been able to do that privately, it would have been nicer. That's the only time I remembered the open meeting law being somewhat of a hindrance.
Barbara Anthony — I have some recollection of being able to go into executive session when we were considering suspending a student from the high school.
Louise Haldeman — And I think that would still be. Personnel issues would be discussed in executive session.
Nancy Beecher — As Selectman, Annabelle and I overlapped for three years. We had the benefit of serving together and I benefited from learning a great deal from Annabelle. The planning issues, open space planning issues, and that sort of thing were strong at that point in time. I was reminded we produced an open space plan in 1985, we had a land acquisition policy in 1986, we had a long-range plan in 1987 with an extensive appendix. The 1987 long-range plan was done by a committee chaired by Bill Clendaniel together with Carol Dwyer, Judy Barnstead, Mark Connolly, Larry Lorah, and Barbara Mudd. This was for town planning. I don't think it was addressing school issues.
The major topic recommendations the planning committee lists were the following: purchase of additional land for water supply, open space, housing, recreation, and so on; upgrading of Route 2; hiring a land use professional; encouraging the passage of the real estate transfer tax which becomes an issue again as it does in time; protecting the Estabrook Woods; lengthening the life of the landfill; reclaiming the PWD site off Keyes Road; and studying the West Concord commercial area. So we've been at these things for a long time. Of course, we remember other things that happened at that point in time like the issue of the Air Force wanting to have our statute. They wanted to make a copy of it for their mascot.
Annabelle Shepherd — It was for one of their locations in Washington. It was Jesse Helms' brother who came here. I thought boy, he ought to change his name before he comes up here. There was a very strong feeling. I remember David Emerson, who was a strong Air Force man, thought this was the least Concord could do.
The other thing was the firing of the gun for the Concord Battery. The accident happened before our watch but the appeal was to fire them again. They were espousing all their safety regulations that they were going to put into use so that was another non-event as far as earthshaking but took our time and effort. It was divisive. Emotional was the word. It was not rational.
Louise Haldeman — These things get tied into other things. They do this today too. If you didn't want the cannon fired, you were denying your heritage and if you did, you were a warmonger. All these things take on added weight. You're adding other things to them.
Nancy Beecher — In my time, and it seems innocent enough now, there was the request to have a sister city relationship established which is so active and effective now. It was not all positive then. There was a great deal of negative feeling. They felt it was just not the thing for the town to be into.
Barbara Anthony — And there were people who didn't like the fact that Concord flies all those flags on UN day.
Annabelle Shepherd — There was an appropriation at town meeting for something like the modest little sum of $25.00 for the celebration of UN day, and there were a few people who would vote against that and speak against it every time.
Louise Haldeman — There was a sign flying in town somewhere that said "get the US out of the UN." I remember that. There is a similar sign out in Arizona that I see every time I go to see my mother, but I remember sort of a homemade banner. It flew at somebody's house not too far from the armory, when the armory was where things wound up after the parades. Indeed I remember when the League did a restudy of the UN. It was time for refocus. Several people said I'm sure the League will reverse its position but actually after lots of discussion, we didn't.
Nancy Beecher — The issue of use of town property and buildings is something we always deal with. People don't realize what positive things have been done. You spoke to the fact that you used to teach in the Peter Bulkeley and now that has become the property of the Concord Housing Authority as elderly housing. Things like that have happened. The Emerson Annex being converted to housing is what happened during the time I was on the Board of Selectmen. That is what is important for us to remember. We were struggling, both Annabelle and I when we were on the Board of Selectmen, when that state law which was undertaking to get a better percentage of affordable housing in all of our towns was enacted, and Concord ranks very poorly, does yet. So we had to be trying hard to get some affordable housing in this town. We still are. There were other property issues also where indeed we had standing conflict and any one of us can come down on either side of it, preservation of open space versus use of land for affordable housing. It is an ongoing issue.
Louise Haldeman — When I was on the School Committee, the school determined it could make two parcels available for housing if the town chose to do so. We weren't seeking to get rid of it but we could spare it if the town wanted to use it. One was Strawberry Hill Road and there is a school site there still, and one of our issues was could we give it away. We did not want to give the whole site away because we said that it is not impossible that the town may need to build, so we had to check very carefully to make sure there would be enough land to build a school if we wanted to do it. I think there still is plenty of land for a middle school. The other space was along side of Willard. The town meeting voted the Strawberry Hill land originally and then a few years later it was Willard. It was interesting because the schools were neither advocating it or opposing it, just saying if you want to do it we can spare this land. It was very hard for some people to make that distinction. Why are you doing this?
Debbie Barr — I like to hear the idea that there has been long term thinking about first of all purchasing the land for school use in the first place.
Barbara Anthony — We used to have a school sites committee when I was on the School Committee. A whole separate committee to deal with this. Well, you can tell that from all these schools that were built.
Debbie Barr — Then there was money appropriated to purchase it?
Barbara Anthony — It came up at Town Meeting. That's why the site where Sanborn is now had already been purchased by the town even though they turned down the money for building a school there because they weren't really sure. That land on Strawberry Hill Road was actually offered to the schools by the McGrath family and was a very good site. But the School Sites Committee any time something came up or there was an offer like that would have to go and look it over and make sure it had drainage and all those things.
Louise Haldeman — The building that has been very successfully recycled is the Harvey Wheeler building in West Concord which now needs to be renovated. When we moved to town that still housed the kindergarten for the Thoreau School. When the proposal came to turn that building to the town, there again was much emotional stuff on each side. When that school was built it was a state-of-the-art school, all on one floor. It certainly needs redoing but it has been amazingly successful. The Council on Aging and the Children's Center are there and they have happily coexisted. I think there are so many things in town where we have taken buildings that have served their purpose and used them for a new purpose and have done it very well. We haven't knocked too many of them down.
Nancy Beecher — I just wanted to note that the town did adopt a land acquisition policy in 1986 and we established the land fund that year. We appropriated that year $391,000 for the land fund.
Annabelle Shepherd — One of the continuing conflicts is when you buy town land what do you buy it for? If you buy it for conservation, it's gone as far as total usage goes because you have to go to the state legislature to get that land released back. If you buy it for town purposes which would a school site, recreation, landfill, whatever, that never seems to generate support any more. It must have generated a lot of enthusiasm 30 years ago. Any more town use doesn't seem to generate the support that conservation does. I've just watched that with interest because it seems to me by and large the land remains open many times, like the Strawberry Hill school site is open but for some reason we like conservation and we relax and say it can never be built on. Sometimes it becomes just a little shortsighted if the need arises for municipal purposes.
Nancy Beecher — We did a good job as a town a couple of years in relation to the Elmbrook property, and we're working on that still. I serve on the Elmbrook Affordable Housing Committee and we've saved a piece of land for open space. Town Meeting set aside the other piece of land right next to it for development of housing. We've gone through the whole process of getting a bid and a proposal and that sort of thing. But we hit the problem of people really not wanting housing constructed in that location in the Virginia Road area and there's litigation now, so we're just waiting. We can't do anything more until that is resolved.
Barbara Anthony — Annabelle was talking about conservation land, and I sometimes feel that Concord has almost overdone the conservation concept at the expense of things like affordable housing but people are very wary of having the town build affordable housing. I think it is still a very divisive issue. They just feel so secure if the land is in conservation and there can never be a sewage disposal plant and there never can be housing maybe even limited income housing where you might have "the great unwashed" moving out from Somerville and coming to Concord and so forth. That's an issue I don't know if we will ever resolve.
Nancy Beecher — It's an ongoing problem. I have to admit an issue came up relative to our property on Monument Street. I was roundly castigated in the community for the whole process we went through. There are some extensive issues of property sale and development that revolve around adjacent to our property relating to conservation issues. I could talk a good line but the people didn't want affordable housing.
Louise Haldeman — I think if you look back to probably the end of World War II there was a period when most communities looked toward expansion as being a good thing. They could stand a little expansion, a nice clean industry that provide good jobs could come in there for example. I think at this point with more people having cars and you don't have to have the factory close to where you live anymore, etc., there are more of us and we do have this idea, "now that I've climbed up here, I'm going to pull the ladder up after me." That is very strong on one side. Still we want to build our house but then we don't want anybody else to do it. The other issue is that the whole housing market is Massachusetts is out of control. There is no such thing as affordable housing. The people in need of affordable housing are well off people. The issue that would have once been, why don't they get a job, is not the case any more. As somebody informed us at our meeting to qualify for the affordable housing we have, you need an income of about $60,000 a year. Two young teachers may make that much but many people in very good professional jobs don't make that kind of salary. It takes two people working, etc. The third thing is unfortunately, a piece of conservation land in addition to preserving the birds, squirrels, deer and a few other things doesn't cost very much compared to that house. You have people sitting back and saying that house requires town services so there are conflicting issues. I don't know what the solution is, but I keep hoping that at some point while I don't want to see anyone go bankrupt that the housing market will ease a little bit. It bothers me. I don't think it's going to be good for the town of Concord in the long run. It is losing the mix of people that used to live there. The artisan class if I may use such a term is largely not here any more. I also think many younger professional people are not moving here, the teachers, scientists, the people who are not in the big bucks business, and in the long run that may have a bad effect on the town.
Nancy Beecher — There are those of us who came into Conantum in the early ‘50s right after the World War II, and they were a bunch of MIT and Harvard and egghead kind of people into the first development in Concord.
Annabelle Shepherd — I'd just like to go back. When I talk about land for municipal purposes, I mean something other than just affordable housing. I just think there are so many different kinds of things the town may need, and for some reason years ago, we bought them with the idea of school sites and they never happened but could be used for other purposes. It can now be changed as opposed to conservation land.
Debbie Barr — I loved the idea that you had the coffees where neighborhoods could talk about their neighborhood and community because that's where it would come out that it is not all housing, recreation but services.
Louise Haldeman — It was clear in going back that in some cases some areas have more of a community feeling than others. I'll pull up the ladder, I don't need any services, I can afford them all and I don't care whether you have them or not.
Debbie Barr — I'd like to ask each of you to think about and talk maybe a minute what your involvement with the League has meant to you personally. I've heard in between the lines that for example Annabelle you mentioned that all your involvement, you ended up getting an MBA at some point. I think the course in anyone's life is never a straight line, it kind of goes back and forth but where did this League involvement lead you to ultimately and how did it affect you?
Nancy Beecher — I might say it opened some wonderful doors for me because of the local work on a State League issue, and then the involvement for the State League relative to public personnel administration. I became a member of several national organizations, The American Society of Public Administration and National Civil Service League that did a nationwide study of police policy and practices. I participated in that so I had this wonderful opportunity of being involved in a wide scope of issues that had to do with fairness and openness in public employment especially focusing on moving forward relative to women and moving forward relative to minorities. It was very satisfying. After I left the Civil Service Commission, I had a lot of involvement in Boston with various groups. While I love the involvement here in the community of Concord, I also love the wider horizons that have opened up.
Debbie Barr — What I think when you say that is the original suffrage movement starting with the idea of equal access to vote, the outcome of this is equal access to employment, an economic opportunity, but if you don't have that choice, that is decided behind closed doors.
Nancy Beecher — If you study those initial police examinations which we were involved with when I first got in, there was no way a woman could do well on those for a variety of reasons. I rejoice now whenever I see women in our police force here in Concord as well as blacks. The exam was so set up really that essentially if you were in a segment of population for example in Boston among the Irish, your dad and your uncle and your brother and all were in it and they knew how to take the exam. So we had to break down some of those barriers and open it up, and it's been happening.
Annabelle Shepherd — The League just opened up a whole world of local activity for me simply because I was a member of the League they invited me. I think that's a tribute to the League that they felt that the experience I was enjoying as a League member in a study effort was going to be useful. I'm not especially active in the League now, but I think the participation in the League just broadened my ideas and the scope for which I look at the government, local, state and federal.
Barbara Anthony — I was thinking I had sort of three phases in relation to the League because I was active and then was on the School Committee. When I finished on the School Committee, I did go back to teaching and after several years of teaching, more than 10 years of teaching, I then changed to having a job in an office in Cambridge from which I retired about 8 years ago. One of the first things I did on retiring was to decide to be active in the League again. It didn't take very long for the word to get out just as it did earlier. I think first of all being on the League board now I've particularly enjoyed. Whereas in 1951 I met a lot of the older women in Concord, now I meet some of the younger ones who I would never meet not having children in the schools any more, and I get a whole other point of view of things by listening to the younger members. The other thing is while I was teaching which is pretty much a full time job and then working full time in Cambridge, I was very dependent on the League to keep me up-to-date and in some cases telling me what to think. By reading the bulletin I would see the League had a position for the graduated income tax or opposed to something, and it just saved me having to do individual research on all of those issues. It's great, and long live the Concord League of Women Voters!
Louise Haldeman — I think I can connect with a lot of that. It opened the door and got me out of the house back when we had one car and had babysitting in the League. First was the intellectual activity if I can use the phrase, really studying something. The thing I've always appreciated about the League is that it doesn't make up its mind too fast. By the time we've gotten onto a subject we've really looked at it and we're not afraid to look at the things we don't see at the moment. On a personal note as somebody else said, my being in the League meant I was invited to do things because I was on the League board. When I was League President, I was automatically invited to join various groups. I was invited to go into town one time to talk about Route 2. I found interestingly enough when I first ran for School Committee, a lot of people I met at the School Committee Conference were people who had all been League presidents at the time I was. I think those connections are still good. I've branched out and am still active in the League but I'm active in the suburban coalition and some other things. I've found the people that can really do things and are really smart are often League members. I'd say that and the School Committee things have shaped the subsequent direction I wouldn't have taken on the special education study for the state had it not been for the stuff I learned on the School Committee.