With careers marked by a series of firsts in New Bedford politics, Rosalind Poll Brooker (1928-2016) and Rosemary Tierney (1932-2020) were trailblazers for women in law and politics. Rosalind, the first woman elected to the City Council, the first female City Council president, and the first female City Solicitor; and Rosemary, the first and only woman to be elected mayor, as of 2021, used political office to mobilize change from within the walls of City Hall.
Rosalind Poll Brooker overcame every obstacle to make her community a better place. Not only did Rosalind enter the fields of law and politics at a time when women were expected to focus on home and family, she also did not let polio, which left her using crutches, hold her back. She began her public service career in 1969 when she was elected to the New Bedford City Council. Although she was first passed over to be City Council president, Rosalind was elected to the role at the next opportunity. Her colleagues described her as tough, kind, fair, and tenacious.
Mayor John Bullard, who named Rosalind as New Bedford’s first female City Solicitor, the chief legal officer of the city, stated “As a city councilor she had a strong personality. She was a great lawyer and a dynamic person.” Former New Bedford City Solicitor Irene Schall remembered Rosalind as an intelligent leader dedicated to advancing women attorneys. Shortly after her 1969 election, Rosalind stated, “I’m not going down in history, I’m going up.” She continued to rise up throughout her life bringing other women with her.
Committed to public education, Rosemary Tierney was elected to the New Bedford School Committee in 1971, where she served for several years. Beginning in 1984, she was elected to the Massachusetts Governor’s Council three times. Rosemary’s trademark grassroots campaigning style, which she perfected in these early elections drove her to victory in the 1991 mayoral race. Former Mayor Scott Lang remembered Rosemary as someone who "understood that door-to-door neighborhood campaigning and personal relationships drove public policy. No one in the City has ever built coalitions to drive an issue like Rosemary Tierney."
Rosemary succeeded in the arena of male-dominated politics by working hard to create programs and policies that included all New Bedford residents. During her first year in office, she unveiled her “Cornerstone for Change” plan to rebuild New Bedford. Perhaps her most important accomplishment was restoring New Bedford’s financial stability through tough budgetary controls.
As firsts in their offices in New Bedford, Rosalind and Rosemary encouraged other women to be politically active by supporting female lawyers and harnessing the networking power of women and women’s groups to strengthen grassroots campaigning. They brought traditional community-based organizing into the formal halls of city government, opening new avenues for women to enact change in areas dominated by men.