Mother’s First Vote



Neighborhood: East New York

Mother’s First Vote
Roosevelt and Hoover by Boston Public Library

 My mother turned twenty-one, voting age, in 1932, during the worst of the Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for president for the first time, trying to unseat Herbert Hoover. My mother had no job, but she had a cousin who was, of all things, not just a Republican but an active Republican. A Jewish Republican in Brooklyn was almost unheard of, but so it was: he was working at the polls in her precinct, and he had a job at his disposal, as a Republican pollwatcher on Election Day. He offered my mother the work and she accepted, though she’d have to register as a Republican, and sit there at the polls all day, letting people think she was a Republican. Of course she would vote for Roosevelt, but her cousin would never find out. Ballots were secret. She needed the money.

My mother registered as a Republican, took the poll-watching job, and voted for Roosevelt. Ballots were secret, yes, but when the voting machine in her precinct was opened on that night, Hoover had received only one vote in that district—from her cousin.

Alice Mattison’s new novel, set in Brooklyn, is WHEN WE ARGUED ALL NIGHT, published by Harper Perennial. Her website is

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