Even today a woman sheriff in New Hampshire would be a rarity. In 1906, 1939 and 1944 when the three women mentioned in this story were appointed, they were momentous occasions. These women were not the first sheriffs in the United States, as I have found an appointment for a woman sheriff made in 1895 in Green County, Missouri [see end of this story].
In a nutshell: Helen M. Kenney of Concord New Hampshire made history being sworn in as New Hampshire’s first sheriff (of Merrimack County) on 7 September 1944. New Hampshire’s first Deputy Sheriff was M. Jennie (Wood) Kendall in 1906 in Hillsborough County. On April 1, 1939 Mrs. Irene H. (Christian) Bryant of Conway became Deputy Sheriff of Carroll County. [Editor’s note: My special thanks to Ruth Speed for bringing Helen Kenney’s story to my attention, and providing the newspaper clipping seen here.]
–HELEN M. KENNEY, SHERIFF OF MERRIMACK COUNTY, NH 1944 —
On 8 Sep 1944 Friday, The Portsmouth Herald announced: “WOMAN MAKES HISTORY AS FIRST N.H. SHERIFF. Concord, Sept 8, (AP)–Miss Helen Kenney was sworn in yesterday [7 September 1944] as sheriff of Merrimack county, the first woman sheriff in New Hampshire’s history. She succeeds George Wooster, who retired today when he reached the statutory age limit of 70. One of Sheriff Kenney’s first duties was to swear in Wooster as a deputy. She will hold office until Jan. 1, when the sheriff elected in the November election takes office.”
Helen had been working in the sheriff’s office, and knew most than most the duties and responsibilities. She had previously been a stenographer in a local law office. She was designated by the state superior court to hold this appointed post until January 1945 when a new sheriff was elected. According to Ruth Speed, “Helen was a Penacook girl all of her life. Lived in the family home on Pleasant street in Penacook.”
—–Partial Genealogy of Helen Kenney—–
George Kenney b. abt 1804 in Ireland; m. Mary Maher, b. abt 1838 in Nova Scotia, d aft 1870 in Boscawen NH. By 1860 he and his wife and children are residing in Boscawen NH.
Children of George & Mary (Maher) Kenney:
1. +George T. Kenney b May 1854, d. 22 June 1944
2. John E. Kenney, b. abt 1857 NH; d. 5 March 1945 Concord NH; he m. 25 Aug 1891 in Concord NH to Mary A. O’Brien, dau of Patrick & Jane (Welch) O’Brien.
3. William A. Kenney, b abt 1858 Boscawen NH
4. Charles M. Kenney b 20 May 1861 in Boscawen NH; m. 27 May 1899 in Suncook NH to Georganna Breault, dau of Peter & Virginia (?) Breault
5. Gregory F. Kenney, b. abt 1869 Concord NH; m. 28 Sep 1891 to Josephine Sylvester, dau of Albert & Tillie (Hall) Sylvester
George T. Kenney, son of George & Mary (Maher) Kenney, b. May 1854 Boscawen NH, d 22 June 1944 in Penacook, Merrimack Co. NH ; m. Margaret Gahagan, daughter of Lawrence & Anna (McAule) Gahagen. She b. July 1852/54 in Penacook/Concord NH, d.16 Dec 1920 in Concord NH. He was a machinist. [his biography]
Children of George K. & Margaret (Gahagan) Kelley:
1. George F. Kenney, b. abt 1875 Boscawen NH; m. 6 July 1900 in Lowell MA to Margaret A. Driscoll, dau of John & Ellen (Flynn) Driscoll. She was b. in Penacook NH. He was a card-setter and she was a weaver at the time of their marriage.
2. Mary P. Kenney, b. 9 March 1877 Boscawen NH, d. 25 Sep 1957 in Concord NH, age 80; she m. — Shugrue. widowed.
3. Edward Gregory Kenney, b 20 March 1881 Penacook NH, d. 18 Feb 1958 in Penacook NH; buried Calvary Cemetery, Penacook NH
4. Anna Kenney, b. Sep 1883 Boscawen NH; m. 3 Oct 1904 in Penacook NH to Frank Patrick Ferrin, son of Frank & Ellen (Kelley) Ferrin. He was b. in Concord NH
5. Ellen Margaret “Helen” “Nellie” Kenney, b. 12 July 1886 Concord NH [5th birth]
6. Frank John Kenney, b. 6 Nov 1889 Concord/Boscawen NH
Ellen Margaret “Helen” Kenney, daughter of George & Margaret (Gahagan) Kenney, b. 12 July 1886 Concord, Merrimack Co. NH; died after 1960 probably Concord NH. According to Ruth Speed: “Helen was a Penacook girl all of her life. Lived in the family home on Pleasant street in Penacook.”
1930 US Census > NH > Merrimack > Concord > 21 Pleassant Street
Kenney, George K. Head $4,000 M W 75 widow NH Ire-FreeState Can-English machinist retired
Kenney, Mary P. Daughter F W 51 marr NH NH NH
Ferron, Anne daughter F W 46 widow NH NH NH burler woolen mill
Kenney Helen M. dau F W 43 single NH NH NH stenographer law office
1938 City of Concord Directory
Kenney, Helen M. clk sheriff’s office r21 Pleasant P
1951 Kenney Helen M. work at Keeler Real Estate Agency, 88 N. Main
1960 Kenney, Helen M. h 21 Pleasant P
–M. JENNIE (WOOD) KENDALL, DEPUTY SHERIFF OF HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, NH 1906 —
In 1906 Sheriff Nathan[iel] Doane of Hillsborough County, NH swore in New Hampshire’s first woman deputy sheriff, “M. Jenny Kendall” of Nashua, New Hampshire. She served for two years.
She was a staunch animal right’s activist, founding the Humane Society for Greater Nashua [formerly known as the Women’s Humane Society] in 1900. According to the Humane Society’s an online history: “Mrs. Kendall was a staunch animal welfare activist whose concern for the horses, which provided much of the city’s transportation in her day, led her to start the city’s first humane society. Then called the Women’s Humane Society, it operated shelters in both Nashua and Laconia. In 1969, the two organizations separated. In 1929, the six-acre parcel upon which the shelter is now located was bequeathed by Roscoe F. Proctor and three acres were given over to the establishment of the Proctor Animal Cemetery, which Jennie founded and where her cat Creampot was interred after losing her life in the 1930 Crown Hill fire. For the following fifty years, Nashua’s animal welfare efforts were managed out of a variety of locations, including the Nashua home of Jennie’s niece, Marion S. Draper. In 1979 the existing facility was erected at 24 Ferry Road.”
Jennie was a resident of the Crown Hill section of Nashua (at least before the devastating fire there). She devoted more than 50 years to the Humane Society. She also served as VP of the American and New Hampshire Human Societies, and was a director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At the time of her death in 1939, there were 150 dogs, cats and other pets buried in the Proctor Cemetery that is associated with the Society. In 1971 according to the Nashua Telegraph newspaper, there were more than 4,000 parted members of Nashua’s animal kingdom, including cats, dogs, parakeets, parrots, raccoons, ponies, and even one horse. By 1973 burials included a kinkajou (monkey-like creature from South America). Proctor’s Cemetery has a tomb “For an Unknown Dog.” The only human being honored at the cemetery is Mrs. Jennie Kendall with a plaque commemorating her efforts.
—–Partial Genealogy of M. Jennie (Wood) Kendall—–
Thomas Wood, son of Bennet Wood, b. 23 October 1746 d. 2 March 1794, “died suddenly” per Groton town records. He married 25 Oct 1775 to Mary Whitman, daughter of Zachariah & Elizabeth (Gates) Whitman. She was b. 14 January 1756 in Stow MA, d. 29 Aug 1822 prob Groton MA. [see Wood genealogy]
Children of Thomas & Mary (Whitman) Wood:
1. Thomas Wood Jr., b. 21 Dec 1776 in Littleton MA
2. Mary Wood, b. 24 Dec 1778 Littleton MA; m. — Mansfield, lived in NH.
3. Lydia Law Wood, b. 19 Sep 1780 in Littleon MA d. 1801 unmarried
4. Jeremiah Wood b 6 Oct 1782 Littleton MA, drowned in a storm.
5. Lois Wood, b. 2 Jan 1784 in Littleton MA
6. Susanna M. Wood, b. 29 Nov 1783 Littleton MA
7. Zachariah Wood, b. 13 October 1787 Groton MA; served in War of 1812; reportedly taken prisoner by Indians, fate was never known, unmarried.
8. Bennet Wood, b 30 October 1789 Groton MA, d. 26 April 1794
9. Daniel Wood b 8 October 1791 Groton MA, d. 30 July 1795
10. Elizabeth Wood, b. 7 January 1793 Groton MA, d. 31 July 1795
11. Sally Wood b 20 May 1794 Groton MA
Children of Mary (Whitman) Wood:
Groton records state, “Mary Wood the widow of Thomas Wood has two illegitimate children, viz:
12. Washington Wood b 17 Feb 1799, and Watson Wood b 30 Dec 1800.”
Watson Wood, b. 3 Dec 1800 Groton, Middlesex MA, per Groton town records, illegitimate son of Mary Wood, widow of Thomas Wood. carpenter; d. 7 Nov 1886 in Groton MA, age 85 yrs 11 mo 4 days; m. 1 Jan 1823 in Groton MA to Annis Abbott. She b. Lowell MA. m2) 9 Dec 1839 in Hopkinton NH to Mary Richards, daughter of Joseph & Nancy (Cody) Richards. She b. 22 July 1820 at Hopkinton NH/or Harvard MA. He had 1 dau and 1 son by his 2nd wife. [info on 2nd wife from Cody Family in America by Lydia S. Cody].
Children of Watson & Annis( Abbott) Wood:
1. +George Watson Wood, b. 3 Sep 1823 in Groton/Littleton MA
2. Theodore Hallan Wood, b abt 1830 Littleton MA, d. 28 May 1894 in Somerville MA, buried Everett MA; m. 25 Sep 1878 Manhattan NY to Annie Louise LaMos, dau of Moses Varaison & Marcia Ann (Parker) La Mos
3. Grayville P. Wood, b. 1833, d. 11 Aug 1887 NH
Children of Watson & Mary E. (Richards[on]) Wood:
4. Mary F. Wood, b. abt 1847 Littleton MA; d. 29 Sep 1900 Groton MA, age 53 a widow. She m. Charles C. Webster.
5. son Wood
George Watson Wood, son of Watson & Annis (Abbott) Wood, b. 3 Sep 1823 in Groton MA , d. 8 Sep 1904 in Nashua NH. He m1) 27 May 1852 in Westford MA to Susan E.A. Wright, dau of Ezekiel & Susan (Stevens) Wright. She was b. 8 Jan 1822 in Westford MA and d. 26 July 1856 in Westford MA. He m2) 31 Aug 1857 in Lowell MA [also recorded in Westford, Middlesex Co. MA] to Miss Susan Maria Melvin, dau of Charles & Susan (Hunt) Melvin. She b. 16 June 1829 in Lowell MA, an d. probably 1890 NH. Lived also in Greenfield NH [7 months in Nashua at 93 Allds Street]. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Nashua NH.
Children of George W. & Susan E. H. (Wright) Wood:
1. George W. Wood, b abt 1852 Lowell MA, d. 15 Feb 1857 Westford MA
2. Susan E. Wood, b 19 July 1855 in Westford MA, d. 30 July 1856 Westford MA
Children of George Watson & Susan Maria (Melvin) Wood:
3. Watson M. “Walter Melvin” Wood, b. 23 March 1860 in Westfood, Middlesex MA. He m1) 21 Feb 1900 in Manhattan NY to Anne Barden, dau of Lawrence & Susan (Reden) Barden. He m2) 1 June 1915 in Cambridge MA to Mabelle Lulu Smith, dau of Joseph & Annie (Kay) Smith
2. +Mary Jane “Jennie” Wood, b. November 1860 in Lowell MA
3. *Susan A. Wood, b 6 Jan 1863 Medford MA., d. 9 Oct 1955. She m. 25 Nov 1885 to Wilmer J. Shattuck. Their daughter Marion Susan Shattuck m. Bert S. Draper. She attended Greenfield schools, Francestown Academy and later taught school in Greenfield NH. Following her marriage she moved to Nashua NH. She was a communicant of the Church of the Good Shepherd, member of the Nashaway Woman’s Club.
4. John Theodore Wood, b. 5 Oct 1868 Wakefield, Middlesex MA; lived Pinewood Village, West Harwich MA.
5. George Granville Wood, b. 13 Feb 1871 in Wakefield MA, ?twin
6. Charles Granville Wood, b. 13 Feb 1871 Wakefield MA; m. 9 July 1900 in Cambridge MA to Elizabeth Briscoe, dau of John O. & Mary E. (Franklin) Briscoe. He was a newspaper man, and conciliator.
Mary Jane “Jennie” Wood, dau of George W. & Susan Maria (Melvin) Wood, b. November 1860 [or 1858] in Lowell MA, and d. 28 Sep 1939 in Nashua, NH. She is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Franconia NH. By 1950 she was spending her winters in Petersburg FL. This story is about her, see above. She married 4 June 1883 in Greenfield NH to George H. Kendall, son of Charles Kendall. He was b. Jan 1846 in Laconia NH. At the time of their marriage, she was a teacher in Greenfield NH.
The Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) 9 Nov 1937
She [Mrs. Kendall] in 1906 was appointed deputy sheriff by Sheriff Nathaniel [Doane] of Manchester. She was the first woman sheriff ever appointed in New England. Later she was obliged to resign on account of the illness of her husband.
1902 Nashua NH City Directory
Kendall, George H. engineer, B. & M., repair shop, h 93 Allds
1921 Nashua NH City Directory
KENDALL, M. Jennie Mrs. Director N H S P C A h 93 Allds
Kendall, George H. (Mary J) gateman h 93 Allds
1900 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > NH > 93 Allds Street
Kendall, George H. Head W M Jan 1846 54 married NH NH NH Engineer
Kendall, Mary J wife W F Nov 1860 40 MA MA MA
Kendall, Walter M. son W M June 1885 15 single NH NH MA
Child of George H. & Mary Jennie (Wood) Kendall:
1. Walter Melvin Kendall, b. 18 June 1884 in Franconia, Grafton Co. NH, died 1956 probably Attleboro MA; lawyer. He m1) Gertrude Everett Horton, dau of Everett S. & Eliza D. (Fremont) Horton. She b. 29 May 1876 and d. 18 Dec 1928. He m2d) Dorothy A. –. In 1917-1918 he lives at 106 Pleasant St, Attleborough, shows nok as wife Gertrude E. and working as a claim agent for the NY, NH and Hartford RR. In 1940 living in Attleborough, Bristol Co. MA with wife, Dorothy A. In 1956 Listed in Attleborough MA directory as attorney. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Attleboro MA.
[Editor’s note: my deepest gratitude is extended to Douglas A. Barry, CAE, current President and CEO of the Humane Society for Greater Nashua, for providing the beautiful photograph of M. Jennie (Wood) Kendall.]
–IRENE C. BRYANT, DEPUTY SHERIFF OF CARROLL COUNTY, NH 1939 —
The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth NH 30 March 1939 reported: ” Not to be outdone by Warren and its woman police chief, Carroll County on April 1, will be recognized as having the first woman deputy sheriff in the state, according to the announcement of Sheriff James Welch of Tamworth. The newly appointed woman deputy will be Mrs. Herbert Bryan of Conway.”
As we already know, this story was not entirely accurate, and the next day was a retort in the same newspaper. From The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth New Hampshire 1 April 1939: “Mrs. Kennie [sic] Kendall of Nashua, vice president of the New Hampshire Humane Society was the first woman deputy sheriff in New Hampshire, she said Friday, after reading that Mrs. Irene C. Bryant of Conway claims the honor. Mrs. Kendall said she was named to the office 30 years ago by the late Sheriff Nathaniel Doane and served for two years.”
—–Partial Genealogy of Irene H. (Christian) Bryant—–
John Christian, b. Jan 1852 in Nasko [possibly this is Nakskov] Denmark, m. abt 1880 to Myrtia Modeste “Maudist” “Maud” Lebel/Bell, daughter of Adam Clement & Elenore (Cyr) Lebel/Bell. She b. June 1854 St. Leonard, New Brunswick, Canada, d. 30 August 1902 in Maine. In 1887 living in Fort Fairfield Maine, laborer. He immigrated in 1878 and was a naturalized citizen (according to 1900 US Census).
1900 US Census > Maine > Aroostook > Fort Fairfield
John Christian 48 Jan 1852 Den Den Den imm 1878 naturalized day laborer
Modeste Christian 45 F June 1854 b. Canada, father b. France, m. born Canada 4 children 2 living
Annie Christian 15 F June 1884 15 single Main Den Can
Irene Christian dau F W Oct 1887 12 single Maine Den Can
Bell, Thomas boarder W M Apr 1813 87 widow Can Can Can imm 1900 alien
1910 US Census > Maine > Aroostook > Fort Fairfield
John Christian 65 M W Widowed b abt 1845, immigrated 1870 Denmark
Annie Chrisian 26 Maine
Irane [Irene] Christian 23 Maine
Children of John & Modeste (Bell/Label) Christian:
1. Adam Christian, b. 1882, d. 31 October 1892 Fort Fairfield Maine of typhoid fever
2. Annie May “Marie May” Christian, b. 18 July 1885 Fort Fairfield, Maine; m. 30 Sep 1925 in Fort Fairfield Maine to John C. Pomelow
3. +Helen Irene Christian, b. 10 Oct 1887 Fort Fairfield Maine
Herbert Edward/Emery Bryant, son of Ernest E. & Lillian E. (Stewart) Bryant, b 4 September 1890 in Eaton, Carroll Co. NH (father b NH, mother b Maine), in 1920 chauffeur. He married 1 May 1913 in Conway NH to Helen Irene “Irene H.” Christian, daughter of John & Modeste (Bell) Christian. She b. 10 October 1887 in Fort Fairfield, Maine, and died 25 June 1952 in Conway NH. [her death rec in town report erroneously says parents were Edward Stuart & Drusella Brooks] Saleslady in Dry goods store in 1920. Living in Conway NH. In 1967 she reported an income of less than $100 for her work as deputy sheriff.
1940 US Census > NH > Carroll County > Conway
Lillian E. Bryant 72 Head F W widow 8 yrs school Maine
Herbert E. Bryant 49 son M W married 8 yrs NH turner wood heel mill
Irene C. Bryant 48 daughter in law F W married high school 4 yrs Maine
—–NOTICES OF EARLY WOMAN SHERIFFS IN THE UNITED STATES—–
August 10, 1895, Mrs. Helen C. Stewart was appointed sheriff of Green County, Missouri, to succeed her husband, who died a few weeks prior. She holds the appointment until Sep 10 when a special election will have to be held to fill out the unexpired term. — Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
August 1895, First woman Sheriff of Springfield, Missouri, Mrs. Helen C. Stewart, widow of the late Sheriff Dan R. Stewart, to hold office until September 9 when a special election will be held. Mrs. Stewart is 46 years old and has been married 23 years. –Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) August 10, 1895
1919–First Woman Sheriff. Mrs. Minnie Talbot, the first woman sheriff Lafayette County [Missouri] has even had was sworn into office Monday when the circuit court met with Judge Davis in Lexington. Her appointment from Governor Gardner arrived Friday and her bond was approved by the court Monday. It is just a little over a month since her husband, Joseph Talbott, and two of his deputies were murdered in the performance of their duties. –The Neosho Daily News (Neosho Missouri) 16 June 1919, page 3
In 1920 The first woman sheriff of the southwest, Mrs. William Gates, was installed, taking the oath of office as a sheriff of Stephens county, at Duncan, Oklahoma. “There will be no bootlegging or moon-shining in these parts,” Mrs. Gates announced as the chief plank of her platform, and to prove she meant what she said, she seized three stills within a week after she assumed office. She succeeded her husband, who, while on his deathbed, summoned the three commissioners of Stephens county and asked them to elect his wife of the office. –The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas) 12 July 1920, Monday
On 4 October 1920, the first woman sheriff in the history of North Carolina filed the necessary bond and took the oath of office in Pittsboro. She was Miss Myrtle Siler, who became the regular high sheriff of Chatham County.
Mrs. Louis Roach, first woman sheriff in Kentucky. She was appointed to the office March 11, 1922 following the death of her husband John T. Roach, who was killed by Samuel Galloway. She made the race and was elected to the office in August 1923, and vacated her post on 1 January 1926. — Wilmington News-Journal (Wilmington, Ohio) 1 January 1926
On 30 August 1923 the first woman sheriff in Pennsylvania was named by Governor Pinchot, who announced the appointment of Mrs. Mabel Gray of Williamsport to succeed her husband, the late Thomas Gray, as sheriff of Lycoming county. Her husband had dropped dead while attending the funeral of a relative. [one article states she was the first woman sheriff in the country, but this is clearly not correct].
On March 29, 1924 Leonard C. Morehead was sheriff, and was shot to death while watching a show in the old Steep Hollow Schoolhouse , east of Bryan, Texas. The County Commissioners immediately named his 35-year old wife, Mrs. W.A. Winters sheriff. Her first official act was to sit on the old jailhouse lawn and pour out 718 quarts of confiscated bottled in bond liquor and 25 gallons of moonshine whiskey. She had only one arrest, and got the prisoner to confess to his crime by telling him she could tell he was lying by his expression. –Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania), Tuesday, July 19, 1960, page 10
April 15, 1924, Wisconsin announced its first woman sheriff, Mrs. Emma M. Leonard of Antigo, Wisconsin. She was appointed by Governor John J. BLaine to fill the unexpired term of her husband who died recently. She conducted the office for several months while he was seriously ill. — The Taylor Daily Press (Taylor, Texas) 15 April 1924
In 1961 Kansas counties elected two female sheriffs, Lorene Parker in Rush County, and Mrs. Ruby Mellies in Ness County Kansas. — Great Bend Tribune (Great Bend, Kansas) 12 Jan 1961
Mrs. Gloria Rice Clark, became the first woman to be elected sheriff in Connecticut in 1974. She lived at 175 Riverside avenue, Greenwich CT. She was a Democrat. –The Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut) 6 November 1974 [Note: this was the same year Connecticut’s First Woman Governor was elected, Ella T. Grasso, also a Democrat.]
In 1976 Kathy Crumbley became Ohio’s first female Sheriff, taking office in January of 1977. She was a former deputy and graduate of the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Course. According to the newspaper story, she was the first woman ever elected to the office in Ohio, and the third in the nation. She was the only woman sheriff in the country when she was sworn in.
In 1983 the widow of Pulaski County Sheriff, W. Bayne Ward was chosen to succeed him. Charlotte A. Ward, 49, was named sheriff by a majority vote becoming Pulaski County, Indiana’s first woman sheriff — Logansport Pharos-Tribune, (Logansport, Indiana) 19 Oct 1983
November of 1988 was momentous for Kerr County, Texas, when Frances Kaiser was elected sheriff claiming 65% of the vote over the incumbent. — The Kerrsville Times (Kerrsville, Texas), 9 Nov 1988
[Editor’s note: if any of my readers happens to have photographs of these women and would like to share, please contact me or leave a message post. I will give you full credit.]
Human and Animal Rights Advocate, Cheshire Co. NH Deputy Sheriff Jennie Belle (Carter) Powers [written March 2020]