Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mrs. Elizabeth Van Rensselaer Gillette's Legislative Record

Update: When this was first developed, one was able to double click on the photos of the bills to read the text. Currently, google has changed their photo viewing architecture to disable that feature, therefore making it impossible to read the bills. However, there are summaries of the bills in the commentary.

This is Dr. Gillette's complete legislative history.  The full text of all eight of the bills she introduced in the NYS Assembly are below.   

These pages referencing Dr. E. V. Gillette are taken from the NYS 1920 Redbook, a publication of NYS government that explains who is in state government and what they have done. 

This page lists the eight bills that she sponsored.  All of the bills she sponsored are solely sponsored by her.  In the few number of bills that I read from the 1920 session, all of them had single sponsors.  The modern fashion to have multiple, even dozens, of sponsors to a bill does not seem to have been in vogue then.  None of the bills she introduced were enacted into law.  However one bill was passed by the Assembly and the Senate, but it was vetoed by the Governor.  

This page gives a brief biography of Dr. Gillette, and her life in Schenectady. 

This is the bill she introduced that passed both houses and was vetoed by the Governor.  It addresses a problem still plaguing Schenectady today, floods.  The premise of the bill is that the State was negligent in the construction of the Vischer's Ferry dam, also known as lock 7, in Niskayuna.  "(N)ot providing said dam with adequate flood gates and devices to operate the same, or in not removing the Rexford dam and aqueduct, or in not breaking up the solid field of ice on the pool formed by this dam, and thereby bringing about a jam of ice... which caused the alleged damages during the months of March and April, nineteen hundred and fourteen."

This is an interesting argument because it examines the root cause of the flooding, it is novel today because it is always assumed that nothing can be done.  In Dr. Gillette's time people were still pondering the most efficient and least harmful dam designs.  I wonder if a solution could be found to this dilemma by modern engineers.  

This bill simply requests $400,000 for the construction of a bridge between Schenectady and Scotia.  It was also introduced, and killed in the Senate. 

This bill seeks to double the number of representatives on the state committee of each party.  This bill would have the party committees elect 2 people from each Assembly district.  Dr. Gillette was seeking to expand and enhance political discussion.  This is one of her forgotten bills, but, along with its sister bill Int. 26, is her most significant.  People in Schenectady were not content with the structure of their government, or the deliberation of their political parties, and Dr. Gillette expressed a common ideal that democracy could be optimized if more people participated in the process of governance.   

This bill along with the previous bill reflect the widely held belief in 1920 that government, was best suited to broad discussion.  This bill allows political parties to elect one man and one woman to their state committees.  This bill was introduced before the US Constitution was amended to allow women the vote, but after NYS passed a bill ratifying the 19th amendment. 

 Today expanding suffrage is not widely evaluated for its merits, but it should be, just as Dr. Gillette questioned the rationale for limiting suffrage. How many more people could we draw into active citizenry and public discourse if we gave the youth the right to vote?  How can we expand the consistently miserable turn out of eligible voters?  How legitimate is a government when only a small fraction of the people elect representatives?  These were questions that were discussed at Dr. Gillette's house in her day, and we should revisit them.

This bill would restrict the sale of tuberculin or mallein to those authorized by the department of agriculture.

This bill would provide for the construction of a well and pumping station "rendered necessary by the operation of gates in the Vischer Ferry dam".  Half the cost would be picked up by the State and half would be covered by the City floating bonds.  

Don Rittner in his blog at the TU ( gave a cursory and inaccurate description of Dr. Gillette's time in the Assembly.  She only introduced one bill regulating medicine, and he misrepresented Int. 1366.  This bill does not require physicals of children in factories, that was already a law, she wanted children working in "mercantile establishments" to have physicals.  The purpose of the examination was to ensure that the children were healthy enough to work, if they were not an official could cancel the child's work papers, until they were 16 years old, and then they were old enough to work wherever they pleased.  

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