The Smiths of Glastonbury

The Smiths of Glastonbury
"The motto of our government is 'Proclaim liberty to all inhabitants of the land!' and here, where liberty is so highly extolled and glorified by every man in it, one-half of the inhabitants are not put under her laws, but are ruled over by the other half, who can take all they possess. How is Liberty pleased with such worship?"
- Abby Hadassah Smith

Induction Category:

Inducted: 1994

Town: Glastonbury

The extraordinary Smiths of Glastonbury were known for their early advocacy of education, abolition and women’s rights. Born into a prosperous, non-conformist family, the sisters challenged the prevailing attitudes toward women in the 19th century and became increasingly involved in the struggle for suffrage. Their home on Main Street, Kimberly Mansion, is a designated National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior and, though privately owned, is a stop on the Connecticut Freedom Trail. The sisters drew national attention in 1872 when the Town of Glastonbury attempted to raise taxes only on the Smith sisters and two other widows in town, and not on any male citizens. Julia and Abby refused to pay their taxes and took the town to court, ultimately winning their case.


Hannah Hadassah Smith was the mother of the five famous sisters and was a well-educated woman, reading both French and Latin. She taught herself Italian so she could translate the classics. She was the force behind her family's commitment to the abolition movement. With a last name as commonplace as Smith, she and her clergyman husband, Zethania, decided to give their daughters fanciful first names. Like their father, the girls were theological non-conformists. They were also out-spoken abolitionists and suffragists. The whole family lived by a rigorous code of ethics.


Named for her mother and father, she chose to be called Zephina. Hancy was educated at Norwich Academy, Sarah Pierce's School in Litchfield, and by private tutors. She was considered musical, so a piano was purchased for her in the early 1820s. During the abolition movement, she worked tirelessly to collect signatures on petitions calling for the end of slavery.


A dedicated horticulturist, Cyrinthia patiently kept notes on plants she was growing and experimented with fruit grafts. She attended Sarah Pierce's School and furthered her education with private tutors and extensive reading.


Laurilla Smith was the family artist. She taught both art and French at Emma Willard's School in Troy, N.Y., and, apparently on commission, completed many pen and ink sketches of houses. She also taught at Catharine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary. A friend of the family recalled that Laurilla “possessed great powers of imitation and a wonderful memory which enabled her to repeat lectures or addresses verbatim and in every way imitate the speaker so exactly that, unless you saw the speaker, you might easily be deceived.”


Considered the most intellectual of the sisters, Julia could read French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. She taught French and Euclidean Geometry at Emma Willard's School for a brief period in the 1820s. In order to refute the predictions made by William Miller that the world would end in 1843 or 1844, Julia translated the Bible five times to discover where Miller had made an error in his calculations. She later published her version of the Bible to prove that women were intellectually capable of voting. She holds the distinction of being the only woman in history to have published her translation of the entire Bible from its original languages. She and her sister Abby later challenged the Town of Glastonbury, refusing to pay taxes on the premise that it was taxation without representation. Julia was the last surviving sister, and the only one to marry when, at the age of 87, she married Judge Amos Parker of New Haven.


It fell to the youngest sister to be the family spokesperson for suffrage. When she was in her 70s, she began to give hard-hitting speeches on women's rights. Perhaps her most famous was delivered from a wagon drawn up outside the Glastonbury Town Hall. Denied the right to speak inside, she stalwartly mounted the wagon and addressed the milling crowd. When the town seized the sisters' cows for back taxes, and later seized land, it was Abby, along with Julia, who took the town to court. Her efforts won her nationwide praise from suffragists.

During This Time
1800 - 1920: Industrialization & Reform