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Famous Firsts 

High points in Vermont history

Vermont is a small state, but sometimes we lead the nation. That’s mainly because Vermonters have always valued equality and independence — and because we tend to attract free-thinkers who are ahead of their time. Here’s a look back at some important milestones in our history. Missing from this list is one notable “last” — in 1996, after a long battle between developers and anti-sprawl activists, Vermont became the last state in the country to get a Wal-Mart.

  • 1777: Vermont’s constitution is the first in the nation to outlaw slavery. What took everyone else so long?
  • 1814: Emma Willard opens the Middlebury Female Seminary, the first institution of higher learning for women. Now women outnumber men on college campuses nationwide. Were they afraid of the competition?
  • 1819: Capt. Alden Partridge establishes Norwich University, the nation’s first private military college, which offers the first civil engineering course. Practical and independent.
  • 1823: Alexander Twilight (right) graduates from Middlebury College, becoming the first African-American to receive a degree from an American college. There’s a building at Middlebury named after him.
  • 1903: Burlington physician H. Nelson Jackson and his mechanic, Sewall Crocker, become the first people to drive a car across the country, starting in San Francisco and ending in Burlington. Jackson embarked on the road trip to win a bet — there weren’t a lotta roads back then. Now his car is on display at the Smithsonian.
  • 1954: Conseulo Northrup Bailey is the first woman in the U.S. to be elected lieutenant governor. This was before hippies moved to Vermont, so she was a Republican.
  • 1977: Jake Burton (right) premiers one of the first snowboards. It wasn’t the first snowboard, but it might as well have been.
  • 1997: Martha Rainville is appointed adjutant general, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to lead a state National Guard. In 2006, she ran as a Republican for Vermont’s lone congressional seat and lost to Democrat Peter Welch.
  • 2000: Howard Dean signs a law legalizing civil unions, making Vermont the first state to grant same-sex couples all the rights and privileges of marriage. It was a big deal back then, and nearly tore the state apart; now, compared to gay marriage, it seems conservative.
  • 2006: Bernie Sanders becomes first self-described socialist elected to the U.S. Senate.

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