Jo Ives Broke Town Gender Barriers

By: Tim Wood

Josephine Ives, who broke the gender barrier after becoming the first woman elected to the Chatham Board of Selectmen in 1988. FILE PHOTO

First Woman Elected To Board Of Selectman Dies At 99

CHATHAM – For more than 275 years, half of the town's residents lacked representation on the board of selectmen. That changed in 1988, when Josephine Ives became the first woman elected to the board.

“It was huge to have a woman represented on the board,” said Shareen Davis, the board's current chair. “She certainly did pave the way for others to step into the role.”

Dr. Ives also helped integrate the formerly all-male Chatham Band and was fond of pointing out that the monument to Chatham's founders in front of the Eldredge Public Library did not list a single woman.

“She would say, 'Where were all the women?'” recalled her friend Juliet Bernstein.

A life-long educator and tireless advocate of the Eldredge Library, Dr. Ives died at her home Monday. She was 99.

It was the renovation and expansion of the library that prompted Dr. Ives to run for the board of selectmen. She had joined the library's board of trustees a few years earlier, according to former library director Irene Gillies. “She thought it would be good to have somebody on the select board that was solidly behind the project,” Gillies said. The year before her election in 1988, the library had raised $1 million toward the $3 million expansion and renovation, and secured another $1 million from the state. A town meeting vote for the remaining $1 million passed, but was invalidated because the selectmen had not properly advertised the session.

“Either we've got five of the stupidest men on this planet or they're going out of their way to sabotage the project,” Dr. Ives recalled saying at the time in a 2008 interview. The previous year the board had converted from three full-time members to five part-time selectmen, and she won one of two seats up for election, breaking the gender barrier that had been in place since the town's founding in 1712.

“It was wonderful to have that kind of diversity on the board,” said Andrew Young, who served as a selectman with Dr. Ives.

After another successful town meeting vote, the library addition was completed in 1992.

“It was a great accomplishment,” Young said. “It was a major change to a central building in town.” Dr. Ives remained on the library board for 11 years, and continued to support the library for many years, said Gillies.

“If we needed money for something, she would give it to us,” she said.

During her two terms on the board of selectmen, Dr. Ives participated in several significant decisions, including hiring Chatham's first town manager, Tom Groux, and the formation of the town's charter. She was also outspoken during controversial hearings on police misconduct.

“She was not afraid to jump in and make her views known,” said moderator and former selectman William Litchfield.

Dr. Ives was honored with a Pioneering Women award in 2008 along with Bernstein, with whom she had worked in the early 1980s. While reviewing town records, Dr. Ives found that the bylaws of the Chatham Band prohibited women from joining. Since the band received town funding, this violated equal rights laws, and she and Bernstein took the issue to the state Attorney General's Office civil rights division. The issue received wide coverage, including a story in the New York Times. The band changed its bylaws in 1982, but a woman did not join until a decade later. Today, half of the band's 40 members are female.

Born in Colchester, Conn., Dr. Ives graduated from the Teachers College of Connecticut in 1943 and taught first grade in West Hartford for three years. After graduating from Boston University, she taught in Plainville, Conn. before earning her doctorate in educational psychology at the University of Chicago in 1954. At the University of South Carolina, she developed a reading clinic that served schools throughout the state. She accepted a teaching position at New York University in New York City in 1957, where she met her husband, Sumner Ives.

After her husband became ill, Dr. Ives retired in 1977 and the couple moved to Chatham. She cared for him until his death in 1984. It was during that time that she developed a relationship with the library, Gillies said, and after her husband's death she underwent “an amazing transformation.”

“She was just full of energy and looking for things to do,” Gillies recalled. “Because the library had been there for her, she decided one thing she could do was join the library board.”

Dr. Ives maintained a connection with education, volunteering as a reading tutor at Chatham Elementary School for 14 years. Along with the Pioneering Women award, she received the Mercy Otis Warren award in 2008, bestowed for her advocacy for affordable housing and the need for economic security. She worked with a number of nonprofit organizations and was a founder of the Lower Cape Cod Community Development Corporation.

“She always spoke her mind,” Gillies said. “She was never political, but she was always completely civil. She always believed that once she spoke her truth, people would see the light. And it didn't always work that way.”

Since Dr. Ives' election, there's always been at least one woman on the board, “which speaks well to the precedent that Jo and the voters helped to create, that now gender is irrelevant, as it should be,” said Litchield.

Dr. Ives was a role model who showed that it was possible for women to have a voice in the highest office in town, said Davis.

“I appreciate that from her,” she said.