The first public meeting was held on August 15, 1636 in which 18 men signed the town covenant. They swore that they would "in the fear and reverence of our Almighty God, mutually and severally promise amongst ourselves and each to profess and practice one truth according to that most perfect rule, the foundation whereof is ever lasting love."
They also agreed that "we shall by all means labor to keep off from us all such as are contrary minded, and receive only such unto us as may be probably of one heart with us, [and such] as that we either know or may well and truly be informed to walk in a peacable conversation with all meekness of spirit, [this] for the edification of each other in the knowledge and faith of the Lord Jesus..." The covenant also stipulated that if differences were to arise between townsmen that they would submit the issue to between one and four other members of the town for resolution and that they would each pay their fair share for the common good.
Dedham is home to the Fairbanks House, the oldest surviving timber frame house in the United States, scientifically dated to 1637. On January 1, 1643, by unanimous vote, Dedham authorized the first taxpayer-funded public school; "the seed of American education. Its first teacher, Rev. Ralph Wheelock, was paid 20 pounds annually to instruct the youth of the community. Descendants of these students would become presidents of Dartmouth College, Yale University and Harvard University.
Other Dedham firsts include the first man-made canal in North America, Mother Brook, which links the Charles River to the Neponset River. Although they are both slow moving rivers, they are at different elevations. When Mother Brook connected them, the difference in elevation made the current swift enough to power several local mills.
In 1818, though citizens were still at this time taxed for the support of ministers and other "public teachers of religion", Dedham set an important precedent towards the separation of church and state by selecting a different minister than that chosen by the church, a right of selection that was confirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court. The historic Sacco and Vanzetti trial in the 1920s was held in the Dedham Courthouse. Dedham pottery is a cherished class of antiques, characterized by a distinctive crackle glaze, blue-and-white color scheme, and a frequent motif of rabbits and other animals.
Dedham is sometimes called the "mother of towns" because 14 present-day communities were within its original borders.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 10.6 square miles (27.6 km²), of which, 10.4 square miles (27.1 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km²) of it (1.79%) is water.
There are 8,654 households, of which 30.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them. 56.3% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.0% were non-families. 23.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.14.
Dedham's population is spread out with 22.2% under the age of 18, 5.8% from 18 to 24, 31.1% from 25 to 44, 24.2% from 45 to 64, and 16.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.0 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $61,699, and the median income for a family was $72,330. Males had a median income of $46,216 versus $35,682 for females. The per capita income for the town was $28,199. About 3.2% of families and 4.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.9% of those under age 18 and 6.5% of those age 65 or over.
The town's seal has several features. In the center is a crest containing the Old Avery Oak. When the tree was finally felled the gavel used by the Moderator at Town Meeting was carved out of it. Above the tree are the scales of justice, representing Dedham as the county seat and home to Norfolk County's courts. On the left of the tree are agricultural instruments and on the right is a factory, showing Dedham's history first as a town of farmers and then a one with a number of mills and factories, particularly along Mother Brook. Below the tree is a banner with the word "Contentment."
The town flag is red with the seal prominent and in the center. In the lower left corner is part of the Avery Oak and in the lower right is part of the Fairbanks House. It hangs in the selectmen's chambers at town hall and in the Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House.
There are to be "not less than six nor more than nine convenient voting districts, so established as to consist of as nearly an equal number of inhabitants as is possible in compact and contiguous territory." The districts are to be drawn by the Board of Selectmen and the Registrars of Voters every ten years.
Town Meeting sets its own rules and keeps a journal of proceedings. Votes are by voice unless members call for a standing or roll call vote. The Moderator may call for a role call vote at his discretion. All Town officers are required to attend Town Meeting and multiple member bodies must send at least one representative who have all the privileges of a Member except the right to vote.
If 5% of Town voters petition the Board of Selectmen within 14 days of Town Meeting any action taken may be submitted to voters. The final result is to be determined by majority vote, but Town Meeting can not be overruled unless 20% of registered voters participate.
To be eligible, candidates must have 10 registered voters from their precinct sign nomination papers. Town Meeting Members can not serve on any other elected board or on the Finance Committee. Members who move from the district or are removed by redistricting may serve until the next Town Election, however any member who moves out of the Town immediately ceases to be a Member.
In case of a vacancy, the remaining term is to be filled at the next town election. If no election is to take place within 120 days of the vacancy then the district chairman is to call together the members of the district and they are to elect a member who will serve until the next town election.
The Board of Selectmen have five members who are elected for three year terms and are the chief policy making body for the town. They appoint a Town Administrator who runs the day to day affairs of the Town. They also appoint constables, registrars of voters and other election officers, the board of appeals, conservation commission, historic district commission, and members of several other multiple member boards.
They set policy for all agencies below it, but are not involved in the day to day affairs of the Town. They issue licenses and can investigate the affairs and the conduct of any town agency.
The three elected members of the Board of Assessors serve three year terms and annually make a fair cash valuation of all property within the town.
The three elected members of the Board of Health are responsible for the formulation and enforcement of rules and regulations affecting the environment and the public health.
The Board of Library Trustees has five members, each of whom serve three year terms, and have care of the Town's public library at the Endicott Branch and Main Branch They are responsible for all library policy, the library budget, and hiring and firing the library director. The current Chairman is Joseph B. Craven.
The five elected members of the Planning Board make studies and prepare plans concerning the resources, possibilities and needs of the town. It also prepares the Master Plan.
There are five elected Commissioners of the Trust Funds who manage and control all funds left, given, bequeathed or devised to the town, and distribute the income in accordance with the terms of the respective trusts.
There are five members of the Housing Authority. Four are elected by the Town and one is appointed by the Commonwealth Commissioner of Community Affairs. As a Board they have all of the powers and duties which are given to housing authorities under the constitution and laws of the Commonwealth.
Fictional Dedham Residents: