Our View: Words Matter

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We’ll admit it. We were, at first, a little hesitant at the prospect of erasing the word “selectmen” from our lexicon when it comes to Chatham town government. That’s because we’re proud of the heritage behind our local government, largely unchanged since colonial times. Decade after decade, selectmen have made the decisions that have helped shape Chatham, setting local policies and responding to local emergencies like storms, and maritime disasters and the eroding shoreline. It was a board of selectmen who defiantly staked out the town’s position to support the revolutionaries in Boston as early as 1772. It’s hard to turn one’s back on a title as venerable as “selectman.”

But it’s time. The town has had outstanding, visionary female selectmen for many years, who didn’t give a fig about their male-oriented title. But it’s clearer than ever that in the world of politics – both locally and nationally – words matter a great deal. We welcome the new term “select board” (and apologize in advance if we slip up and write “selectmen” once or twice in the next few weeks – old habits die hard). We hope more women will become politically involved on a local level, and if the board’s new moniker makes that easier, it will have been well worthwhile. Chatham joins seven other Cape towns in so designating their chief executive board, and we hope the remaining seven still using “selectman”, including Harwich, follow soon. The local citizen petition to change “selectmen” to “select board” also came, as many have pointed out, 100 years after the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.

And that’s some heritage worth celebrating.