New Hampshire Glossary: Selectman

Selectmen, or assessors are the elected officials of a town. This term evolved from the term “ten men” (c1634) to “select townsmen” (c1643), eventually becoming “select(ed) men.” Those holding this position were originally “selected” at “town meeting” held once a year. The selectmen managed the affairs of the town in accordance with the policies and laws set forth by the voters.

Despite their responsibility as municipal executives, selectmen can only exercise those powers set forth by state law. Early responsibilities might include hiring preachers, marking out roads, granting licenses to run taverns or sell “spiritous” liquors, submitting documents and fulfilling the town’s share (payment) of taxes required by higher-level government.

New Hampshire’s first woman town selectman was Miss Lenna Gwendolen Wilson of Sharon, who served two House terms. She first became a selectman in 1928, following service in the 1927 Legislature, and was re-elected for three additional three-year terms. She served as board chairman throughout that 12-year tenure, by annual vote of her male associates.


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