A Look Back at Breaking The Glass Ceiling

Way back in the 70s, frustration with watching our Worcester City Council in action or inaction as problems with uneven tax assessments, rising costs to homeowners and businesses, and what many felt was abdicating all political input to the City Manager under Worcester's Plan E form of government, an unusually large number of new candidates emerged to challenge the status quo. I was one, as was Barbara Kohin, both of us being endorsed by the good government organization Plan E Association. Our City Council was an all male body, and women holding elective office were only on the Worcester School Committee, so it was a highly unusual election year in 1972. Over the years when I had 4 small children at home, my husband and I enjoyed politics, and every election opened our home to candidates we liked, regardless of party affiliation, since Worcester's elections were non-partisan. On the national and state elections, I was an active Republican and a member of the Republican State Committee, even serving as Worcester County Chairman for the Nixon Campaign. When Watergate unfolded, I was upset, and decided I would run for office myself to address problems locally rather than work to get others elected. I was active with The League of Women Voters, a whole host of community organizations, had friends from both major parties, and had often attended Council meetings for the League, so I felt confident I could do the job. My husband encouraged me, my mother, Julia Mack, had herself run for Council in 1952, and narrowly lost, so she was delighted, and so began months of attending every event possible, going to every planned debate, and setting up coffee parties in every ward, and rounding up volunteers who were great in getting our signs made and locations found for them.

Incumbent Council members, all male of course, were mostly somewhat paternal towards the sudden emergence of female aspirants, but at least one Councillor blasted me for not simply running for school committee, where "A woman should properly run because children were involved." He was obviously of the belief that a woman's place was either in the kitchen or bedroom, so I really enjoyed running against him! Can't say I shed any tears when he lost the election.

The Telegram and Gazette and local radio stations in 1972 followed the race with great interest as this was really novel to have women in the hunt for City Council seats and some of the cartoons were a riot! Election Day finally arrived and when the votes were counted, three new female City Councillors replaced three male Councillors. I came in second in votes and both Barbara Kohin and Mary Scano were also elected. In those days it was up to the Councillors to decide who would be elected Mayor and they elected Israel Katz as Mayor and elected me to be the Vice Mayor. In reality that

simply made him the Chairman of the body who would conduct the meetings and I would do the same if he elected to speak out on an issue or if he was ab-sent, as the City Manager was the one in charge of carrying out the Council wishes Barbara and I both concluded that several of our male cohorts arrived at meetings without having read much of the data prepared for us, but then we both had League experience, so came well prepared. Sadly we only had one term, as all three of us lost in the next election. Property revaluation and taxes had people up in arms and our short tenure was called "an experiment that failed" by the local media. I stayed active in politics and every once in a while shuffled through the game cards for Worcester Trivia, a clever product put out by the Worcester Historical Museum that includes in its questions about Worcester facts, What 3 women were the first to be elected to the Worcester City Council? The answer? Barbara Sinnott, Barbara Kohin and Mary Scano! Lots of memories. We also appear on a plaque commemorating our role in get-ting the new South High School built; so being elected accomplished something good for Worcester. Try it --You'll like it!

About Barbara J. Sinnott

A graduate of Worcester State Teacher's College in 1955, Barbara Mack began her career as a teacher. In 1957, she and Joseph Sinnott were married and became parents of four children. Barbara became active with the League of Women Voters, community organizations, non-partisan city elections, and Republican efforts at the state and federal level. In 1970, she was appointed to head the Federal Census for Worcester County. Gov. Sargent then appointed her to serve on his newly-created Governor's Commission on the Status of Women. She was elected to serve as Vice Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, elected to the Worcester City Council, and elected a delegate to the 1975 International Year of Women. Barbara worked for the Easter Seal Society of Mass. She was Co-Chair of the Reagan-Bush campaign in Worcester County and was appointed by Margaret Heckler, Secretary of HHS, to the Provider Reimbursement Review Board in Washington. When she completed her term, she returned to Worcester and was selected to serve as President of the Better Business Bureau of Central New England, which position she held for 18 years. Gov. Weld appointed her to the Worcester State College Board of Trustees on which she served two terms, the last as Chairman. Barbara also served on the Worcester License Commission from 1995 to 2003 and was honored by the City Council through a resolution approved in January 2004. She retired from the BBB in 2003. She continues to serve on the Board of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, the Family Services of Central Mass., the BBB Consumer Education Foundation, and the Steering Committee of the Worcester Women’s History Project.

Published Date: 
February 28, 2010