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The Maine Story

The Maine Woman Suffrage Association

A large group of women and men gathered in Augusta for two days in January 1873 and created the Maine Woman Suffrage Association, which “claimed the right of suffrage for the women of Maine,” pledged to work “with unabated and undeviating fidelity,” and endorsed temperance.

In 1876, Cordelia A. Quinby (1833-1925) of Augusta, a former school teacher, became the group’s first woman president, a job she held until 1891.

MWSA officials and members came from across the state. Sarah Jane L. O’Brion (1821-1904) of Cornish, for example, served on the MWSA executive committee from about 1885 to 1900. Active in equal rights work, she had arranged for Lucy Stone to speak in Cornish and Augusta in 1855.

MWSA held annual conventions, helped organize community suffrage groups, educated the public, ensured that at almost every biennial session, legislators received hundreds of petitions with thousands of names attached; and actively lobbied in Augusta.

Isabel Greenwood, ca. 1890

In 1903, MWSA, which had operated with almost no budget, received a financial boost when Hadassah S. Herrick of Harmony, a widow, left her entire estate to the group, spurring MWSA to incorporate to receive the gift.

Isabel Greenwood (1862-1958) of Farmington, who started the Farmington Equal Suffrage Association in 1906, was among the new activists who received training in lobbying and speaking as suffrage agitation increased in the 20th century. She, like others in towns across rural Maine, sat at tables at the county fair, spoke at clubs and at rallies, and gathered signatures on petitions.

The Maine Woman Suffrage Association, founded in 1873, held yearly conventions around the state, often inviting national or out-of-state suffrage leaders to speak. At the 1905 meeting in Old Orchard Beach, Lucy Hobart Day ended eight years as president. Fannie L. Fernald of Old Orchard agreed to take on the job.
The conventions provided a forum for women from all parts of Maine to meet, gain skills in speaking and petition-gathering, and share strategies for increasing membership and raising funds.

1905, (Special Collections, Raymond H. Fogler Library, University of Maine)

Suffrage, Temperance Ribbons, ca. 1900, 1902, 1903, (Swarthmore College Peace Collection)

Hannah Johnston Bailey of Winthrop was a business woman and leader of both the national and state Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which advocated laws banning liquor, and the Maine Woman Suffrage Association. She routinely saved ribbons from conventions of the two organizations. Like many Maine women at the time, Bailey was active in both suffrage and temperance.

1895 (Ronnie Lipinsky Sax Collection)

Two Maine women, Elizabeth Upham Yates and Dr. Abby F. Fulton, each wore a ribbon like this when they attended the 1895 convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Atlanta, Georgia. Yates gave two speeches at the meeting. National gatherings unified suffragists and helped them develop campaign strategies to take back home.

This ribbon’s unusual use of symbols tells a story. At top, is Georgia’s coat of arms, its constitution protected by a military guard and resting on the three pillars of wisdom, justice, and moderation. Below, the guard is gone; two pillars are cracked and one, wisdom, has fallen, all symbolizing that the state’s constitution did not recognize women.

Maine State Museum