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Picture Books in the news
Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Text set in Old Claude
"Taxation without representation," is the key refrain in this interesting and resonant picture book. The year is 1869 and we're in a fully realized Glastonbury, Connecticut, which was drawn upon by historical photographs.
The main characters are Abby and Julia Smith, two elderly sisters who have lived their entire lives in Glastonbury and still run the old family farm. The first page is the two of them in their field on a sunny day, holding milking pails and surrounded by their many cows.
They are good citizens of their fair town because - as the text informs us - "They had always paid their fair share of taxes, which funded schools, roads and other services." However, ill tidings were afoot. Taxes were raised. The good sisters Smith - being the single, female landowners that they were - were called upon to pay much more than anyone else, as a result of a vote in which they - being the single, female landowners that they were - were unable to participate!
Taxation without representation!
The sisters did not concede quietly. They made their frustrations known in town meetings, standing in oxcarts in the town green, drawing parallels between their case and the American Revolution - chanting, "Taxation without representation!"
Then, in 1874, enter George Andrews, slimy tax collector. In lieu of the sisters paying their taxes, he demands seven of their cows. The cows would be auctioned off by the town, who would then keep the money as payment.
There are many great, lively illustrations detailing the passage of the cows, being led this way and that, all seven of them, large and struggling, "bellowing in protest," and "resisting every way possible."
Finally, on the day of the auction, the townsfolk - in solidarity with the sisters, refuse to bid on the cows. The sisters easily buy them back for a song, and the town is forced to take the loss.
This charade apparently went on for several years in Glastonbury. The cows were made to trudge back and forth between the auction grounds and the Smith farm, and every year the result was the same, all the meanwhile the sisters continued to argue from their ox-cart:
"Our town should act as a family, with people working together and taking care of each other rather than rulung over one another and denying the women a voice!"
Newspaper and magazines took up the story, and the situation drew national interest. The sisters toured America, giving speeches and writing about women's rights until 1878, when Abby Smith died.
Julia died in 1886.
It wasn't until 1920 that Congress added the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote.
"The Smith sisters didn't live to see it, but they had played a part in making it happen... and so, of course, had their cows."