Charley Parker was a legendary stagecoach driver, an unbeatable horse handler, and the first woman to vote in the United States! How did it happen, and why did Charlotte Parker decide to become Charley?

It all began when she was twelve years old, and in just a few hours, lost her best friend, her favorite horse, and her special job working in the stable. She was left with nothing but a job in the kitchen that she hated, and the knowledge that she’d never leave the orphanage where she’d spent the last ten years. But Charlotte was tough and strong and determined to make her own way in life, leaving the cruelty she’d known since she was two-years old behind her.

Girls couldn’t travel alone in the 1860s, but boys could. And Charlotte hadn’t been taught to be a girl anyway. She couldn’t sew a stitch, had never had a doll or a tea party, and didn’t know what it meant to be a lady. But she could run like the wind, and ride better than any of the boys in the orphanage. It seemed easy enough to pretend to be a boy. She borrowed some boys’ clothes and enough money for a stagecoach ticket, cut her hair, and left. From then on her name was Charley Parker. And as Charley, she could survive.

The stage line ended in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is where Charley’s life began.

How does a 12-year-old girl become a “man” who was famous all over California as a one-eyed stagecoach driver, the best in the state? How does a skinny 12-year-old girl grow up to be a landowner and the first woman to vote? Follow Charley and Charlotte from Massachusetts to Rhode Island and finally to California, and let them tell you how!

In the 1860s, women didn’t drive six-horse stagecoach teams, get kicked in the face by horses, or vote in presidential elections, but Charlotte did — as Charley.


This booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart.