This Place In History: Flora Coutts

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BARRE, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we visit the Vermont History Center in Barre with Vermont Historical Society Executive Director Steve Perkins. He introduced us to Paul Carnahan, the Vermont History Center Librarian who detailed the interesting life of Flora Coutts.

“She was born in Charleston, Vermont. Her father was a stone cutter in the quarries in Hardwick and died young. Her mother was left with eight children that she brought up. Most of those went on in higher education, including Flora, who went to Johnson State College. She then went on to lead an amazing life,” said Carnahan.

“The first thing she did was to travel to Korea to teach school in Pyengyang with a Presbyterian Church school, called the Pyengyang Foreign School. This was in the 1920s, so it must have been an incredible experience for a young woman from Hardwick to find herself in Korea. It must have been an eye-opening experience, I can imagine.”

“When she got back from Korea, she ran for the State Senate. She served two terms in the State Senate in the late 1930s, a time when George Aiken was Governor. She was not the first woman to serve in the Senate, there had been at least one woman before her; but when she was there in 1939, she was the only woman at that point.”

“Then, World War II broke out and she went back to Asia, this time with the Red Cross, going to China, India and Burma. When she came back, she took another career and became head of the Northeast Vermont Development Corporation, trying to bring economic development to the Northeast Kingdom. She was involved in all sorts of efforts along those lines, including the development of Burke Mountain and Jay Peak.”

“And then, she went back to the legislature for six terms in the 1960s and 1970s. So she was there in the 30s and late 60s. If you can imagine the amount of change that happened in Vermont between the 30s and 60s, it must have been quite the experience for her and her fellow legislators having someone who had this much world experience, and yet, was so rooted in Vermont, and the real hardcore areas of Vermont, where she was living, working and had grown up,” said Carnahan.

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To find Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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