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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in VT » VERMONT (all topics) » Town Clerks of Vermont Speak their Minds
Some of Vermont's Celebrated Town Clerks
Town Clerks of Vermont Speak their Minds

Middlebury, Vermont

By Allison Flint | March 01, 2011

Vermont’s town clerks keep track of the vital information and statistics that occur in each of the 237 towns and 9 cities.

Just Some of the Town Clerks

With no slight intended to the governor or legislators in Montpelier, these town clerks collectively run the state. In celebration of their indispensible role, photographer Sandra Elkin has taken photos of and interviewed nineteen town clerks, all women, to be exhibited in the Vision & Voice Documentary Workspace at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury through March 31, 2011.

As you walk through the gallery, color photographs of open faces standing on easels greet you. Larger than life, these women’s faces draw you in with their eyes and their voices.

Beside each portrait are written quotes from the clerks on a variety of topics and their own voices play on a loop as you proceed through the gallery, sometimes humorous and often heartfelt. The voices speak of the close communities they oversee and the sheer bulk of responsibilities, sometimes overwhelming, they inherit each time state legislators make a new mandate.

They talk about voter turnout or the often controversial Election Day registration policies. Their insider perspective is both illuminating and humanizing.

Carol Richards has been Town Clerk of West Haven, Vermont Since 1967

The Folklife Center is also sponsoring lectures, panel discussions and other information sessions during the run of the show. These include an exploration of the Australian ballot on March 10 and a lecture titled “Town Meeting and Local Government: Focus on Women” by Frank Bryan, professor of political science at the University of Vermont, on March 24. There will also be a town hall meeting investigating the impact of state control on small towns on March 31.

Elkins began her project in 2008 as the nation was in the midst of a historic presidential election and the on-going debate pitting our personal freedoms against national security. Looking to the base of our democracy, Elkins saw that our right to hold elections and vote for our leaders begins with our own town clerks. “They are, I think, the first firewall of our democracy,” Elkin says.

The town clerks who share their stories for this exhibit talk straight about their personal views, their roles in their town, the effect of state mandates and what they see as the future of local government. With town meetings ramping up around the state, these clerks have their hands full at the moment. The Middlebury exhibit is also a part of Elkin’s larger project, Women of the Globe. Through her work she sees “it is more difficult than ever for most women to exercise their right to be seen and heard in their communities.” Through this portrait photo essay, Elkin attempts to “combat the invisibility of women around the globe.”

Vermont voices continue to reverberate at the Folklife Center with their storytelling series, recording Vermonters in front of a live audience. The upcoming event on February 19, “From Sap to Syrup: Stories Abound!” will regale the audience with tales from maple sugar producers, both commercial and backyard. Visitors are invited to share their own stories at this event. For reservations in the recording studio, contact the Folklife Center.


Vermont Folklife Center

88 Main Street, Middlebury, VT 05753

(802) 388-4964

Vermont Folklife Center

Ilsley Public Library

75 Main Street, Middlebury, VT 05753

(802) 388-4095

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