Forty years ago this week, Hartford made history. Ann Uccello was inaugurated as mayor, becoming the first woman to hold the post and the first woman elected mayor of a capital city in the country.
She would go on to serve two terms, narrowly lose a congressional race and then serve in a high-ranking post in Washington.
Friends, supporters and family members would like to celebrate the anniversary of her election with some kind of memorial in Hartford. Looking at her record, the only wonder is that such a memorial hasn't been created already.
The daughter of Italian immigrants, Antonina Uccello was an honors graduate of Weaver High School, Class of 1940, and St. Joseph College four years later. She taught high school for a year in East Hampton — and as fate would have it, one of her students was freshman William A. O'Neill — before becoming an executive with G. Fox, the department store.
A Republican, she served two terms on the city council before being elected mayor in 1967 and again in 1969. The city was overwhelmingly Democratic, then as now, making the election of a Republican highly unlikely. But the Democrats were in some disarray and Ann Uccello was, in the words of Courant political columnist Jack Zaiman, "an extraordinary candidate."
She put forward an agenda that included protecting children from lead paint, creating more low- and moderate-income housing in and outside the city, opening construction jobs (with training) to unemployed minority residents and giving more job-skill training to residents.
When she left office in 1971 to take a position with the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, she strongly recommended the city shift to a strong-mayor system. That, and many of her other proposals, would eventually become city policy. She remains the last Republican to serve as mayor of Hartford.
Miss Uccello, as the newspapers always called her, served two Republican presidents and returned to Hartford after the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter to help run the family's insurance business. She remained active for years on a variety of boards and commissions, and with her party.
She was a role model for many young women. Her nephew David Gustafson recalled an Italian American woman writing to his aunt that her father wasn't going to let her go to college, but he was so happy when Miss Uccello was elected mayor of Hartford that he relented. I went to college because of you, the woman wrote.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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