News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 21, 2019
First female selectman takes seat in Penobscot
Tapley begins term

Sylvia Tapley

Sylvia Tapley is the first woman in Town history to ever hold a seat on the Penobscot Board of Selectmen.

Photo by Monique Labbe Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Monique Labbe

When Sylvia Tapley sat down behind her desk in the selectmen’s room at town hall for a meeting on March 12, she did so as the first woman to ever hold the official title of selectman in the history of Penobscot.

“I’m very proud to be the first,” said Tapley a week into her three-year term. “I think the precedent has been set, and I think we will see more and more women running in the future.”

Tapley has been fighting the battle for female equality for many years, though living in Penobscot made it more difficult to be on the front lines. Instead, she took to letter and article writing, and later social media, and became a “keyboard warrior” to keep the efforts going.

In 2017, Tapley left her keyboard behind and took part in the historic Women’s March in Washington D.C., walking alongside thousands demanding equal rights, pay, etc. for women across the country. She said that was a moment that will stay with her for the rest of her life.

“When we flew out of Bangor, 95 percent of the people on that flight were going to the same place we were,” she said. “It was just incredible to see all those people, hear their stories and be a part of that. You can watch it on TV all you want, but there’s nothing like being there. It was amazing.”

Two years later, Tapley has found herself in a position historically held by the men in her community. After she was elected, she said the outpour of support and congratulations was “humbling and appreciated.”

“I had people tell me that they would not have gone out that day to vote, but they did because it was an all women’s race or because they wanted to support me. Last year there were only about 70 people who voted in the local elections, and this year there were almost 200, and in a snow storm to boot. People really showed up that day,” she said.

The experience has been a learning curve, said Tapley, who added that she is “taking it all in, taking notes and listening.”

Tapley has already listened to the requests from a few residents in town, who waited three days to approach her with official selectmen’s business.

“It wasn’t anything too big. Just a rail in the middle of the stairway at the town hall. I’ll bring that up [at the next meeting],” she said.