Women in Reading Government

Now and Then: Women on Reading’s Governing Board


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“Reading Town Hall,” Reading Public Library, Reading, Mass., accessed December 27, 2020, https://digitalheritage.noblenet.org/reading/items/show/4476.

Bridget Parks ('21), Orbit Contributor

“But if it’s the Board of Selectmen, how can you be on it?”

This is the question Reading Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado was confronted with when campaigning for her 1st term on the board. The person asking the question was none other than her 7 year old daughter.

The open session for Town Meeting on April 23rd, 2018 resulted in overwhelming acceptance of a name change for the Board of Selectmen. Reading would be one of around 90 Massachusetts towns that pursued a name change to something more gender neutral, with  Select Board being the most common, according to Town Manager Robert LeLacheur.  In the crowd of yes votes was future Select Board member Anne Landry. 

“As a woman it is sort of awkward to refer to yourself as a selectman,” Ms. Landry said whilst reflecting on her vote.

“Words matter,” Ms. Alvarado states, “Not just to women and girls, but to men, to boys, and to individuals who don’t identify with either label.” 


Currently there are three women who make up this five person board. These women are Ms. Alvarado, Ms. Landry, and Ms. Karen Herrick. This is the most women who have ever served on the board at one time. 

“Representation does matter. They say ‘You can’t be it if you don’t see it.’ Representation does matter, at all levels,” summarizes Ms. Landry.

Ms. Landry has held a number of positions in politics apart from her current position on the Select Board. Prior to moving to Reading, she served one year on the Arlington Town Meeting. Her next position was on Reading Town Meeting, which she joined in 2014. That same year she joined the Finance Committee. She also ran for State Representative in 2018, however she lost the Democratic Primary by a small margin of 29 votes. 

Her campaigning process during her run for State Representative involved a form of door to door campaigning of thousands of residents. Ms. Landry describes, “[I] heard from them their concerns for our community, and most of those concerns really fell under the jurisdiction of the Select Board.”  She credits this discovery as something that inspired her to run for a seat on the Select Board. 

Ms. Landry acknowledges her time on the ad Hoc Human Rights advisory committee as one of her greatest accomplishments. Ms. Landry serves in this committee as a representative for the Select Board. “We put forward a proposal to have a staff position within the library that would report to a volunteer action and advisory board, which we proposed would be called the Reading Alliance for Equity and Social Justice.” Ms. Landry describes this group as being composed of a group of residents as well as other elected officials. These elected officials include another representative from the Select Board as well 2 from the School Committee.

 “I am proud of that work because it responds to concerns that were brought to the Select Board even prior to my tenure about the best way for the community to respond to instances of hate that have occurred within the town of Reading,” Ms. Landry concludes.

Ms. Landry’s interest in politics clearly did not begin with her time on the Select Board. Her interests in politics were inspired by other politicians she had previously worked with. She credits these politicians as, “public servants of integrity.” This includes Representative Alice Peisch, who chairs the joint committee on education for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She also currently works for State Senator Will Brownsberger, the current President Pro Tempore of the Senate. “Both are public servants whose hearts are in the right place, and who have a great deal of personal integrity as well.”

Additionally, Ms. Landry has been inspired by politicians of national acclaim like the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, having studied some of her Judicial writings while she was enrolled in law school. 


In 1990, Reading resident Sally Hoyt ran for the then named Board of Selectmen. According to an interview she did with the Boston Globe in 2018, Ms. Hoyt was running against 5 men who were all prominent leaders of business in the town. Originally, Ms. Hoyt planned to withdraw her nomination, however she was too late when she went to pull her name. 

That year Ms. Hoyt was elected to her first of four consecutive terms that she would serve on the board, which took place over the years 1990 to 2002. Throughout her years of public service, which began in the 1960s, Ms. Hoyt became incredibly well known by Reading residents as well as residents in the surrounding towns.

Ms. Hoyt has held several other positions outside of the Select Board, including the Reading Council on Aging, Reading Constable, and Massachusetts Silver Legislature as Senate President. 

Though her time pre dates the change of name for the Select Board, Ms. Hoyts political career is an exemplary display of a woman who holds political power as well as having the respect of many of her fellow Reading residents. Even in her late 90’s Ms. Hoyt continues to advocate for issues that are important to her, especially her advocacy for local senior residents of Reading.

Ms. Hoyt continues to reside in Reading, where she has lived over 75 years.


Prior to being elected to her current position on the Select Board, Ms. Alvarado participated in many of the campaign practices known to politicians at every level, including meet and greets with the voters. “It was an amazing experience in how many people I met that I am friends with now, there are neighbors that I met, there are residents across town that I never would have met otherwise.”

Ms. Alvarado ran for a seat on the board in 2018 against incumbent John Arena. March 3rd, the day of the local election provided Ms. Alvarado with the news that she had won the election and would be serving her first term on the Select Board. In April 2021 Ms. Alvarado’s first term will conclude and she will be up for reelection

Ms. Alvarado spoke as to why she was inspired to run for the board. “I have always believed in community service. I have done it for years. I have done it in every city and town I have lived in, but I never anticipated getting into politics.”  Ms. Alvarado had first joined the Finance Committee, where she felt comfortable dealing with numbers. This position provided a good learning experience as to how local government functions. “The more I saw the more I didn’t really agree with how decisions were being made on behalf of residents,” Ms. Alvarado expressed, “Someone once said to me ‘if you can’t change the people, change the people’.” So Ms. Alvarado did just that and has continued to serve on the board on behalf of all Reading residents.

“I feel like one of the things about being a board member is that you are one of five, so any accomplishments we make, we make as a board. While some of us may be more involved or more interested in certain areas, ultimately the entire board contributes,” describes Ms. Alvarado. Her proudest moments on the board were accomplished through the board members collaborating and interacting with each other towards a common goal.

Serving the public in a volunteer position like the Select Board provides many opportunities to work with the public and participate in a variety of forms of public outreach. This provides many opportunities for moving moments. One such moment for Ms. Alvarado was shortly after being elected, when she was asked to speak to a group of young girls on what it means to be an elected official, “I realized, ‘you know, I look like their mom’ so it allowed these girls to see that this is something they can do in the future. That this is an option.

When asked if there were any people who inspired her to pursue local politics, Ms. Alvarado immediately responded with the name Camille Anthony. “She was someone I really admired and respected. She was brilliant and kind,” Ms. Alvarado describes. “She really was a tremendous example of what service means.”


Camille Anthony was a Reading resident who served on the Select Board for 18 years. This means that Ms. Anthony was one of the longest serving members on the board in Reading history. On March 6, 2019, Ms. Anthony passed away, but her legacy continues to be an inspiration for aspiring politicians. Ms. Anthony was very accomplished in local politics prior to her passing and was a well beloved resident.


At the end of each interview, both Ms. Alvarado and Ms. Landry were asked if they could give any words of wisdom to young women interested in politics.

Ms. Alvardo summarizes, “Representation matters. Your voice matters. Not everyone will want to hear what you have to say and not everyone will accept you as you are, but those voices don’t matter. Running for office is important. They are important roles that make important decisions. There are also really important people that support political candidates. If you are interested in politics, running for office isn’t the only option. There are treasurers and campaign managers and strategists, organizers and fundraisers, and web designers. There is a need for a lot of different skill sets to make politicians successful. So if you are interested in politics, you don’t need to put your name on the ballot to make a difference.”

Ms. Landry offered, “I would encourage women to stay true to themselves because there are so many pressures to be or look or act in a particular way. But, you have to be authentic to yourself. That is going to come across to voters too, if you try to behave in a way that people might want you to appear. It’s probably true for any candidate, though it’s probably especially true to female candidates who are under a more significant microscope. Be authentic and Be true to your authentic self.” 


The 2018 decision to change the name of the Select Board was a true display of the power words can hold over a person. “My first town meeting after I got elected,” begins Ms. Alvarado, “was in April 2018 and the article about the name change came up. And I didn’t speak on the subject, but a woman got up, in favor of changing the name. And she told the exact same story about her 9 year old daughter, and I’m sitting there as the first woman on the select board in almost a decade and I am relating to a town meeting member talking about what it meant to her family and her daughter. And her daughter had the same exact question that my daughter did when my name was on the ballot. It showed to me that this is a conversation that families across town were having, and it just never got talked about.”