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The Maine Story

Petitioning the Legislature

From Maine’s earliest days until 1913, residents circulated and gathered signatures on petitions to urge the legislature to pass laws, provide funding for various projects, organize schools, build dams or roads or other infrastructure. Much legislative action was based on petitions.

Maine State Archives Collections

Between 1857 and 1913, thousands of women and men across the state signed petitions seeking voting rights for women – and many others, starting in the late 1800s, signed petitions or “remonstrances” opposing women’s voting rights.

In 1887, for example, at least 2,268 women and men signed petitions, in 1901, petitions had some 1,989 signatures, in 1905, about 3,664 supporters signed, and in 1909, there were 2,468 signatures urging suffrage for women.

Some petition efforts led to bills – known as House Documents or Senate Document – and some efforts never made it out of the Committee on the Judiciary. Sometimes hearings drew hundreds of supporters and opponents. Sometimes no hearings were held.

Some petitions sought full (equal) suffrage and some sought voting in municipal elections only, a part-way measure that would not require a constitutional amendment.

Despite negative responses from the legislature on every request, supporters continued the effort until a bill finally passed both the Maine House and Maine Senate in 1917 by the two-thirds majorities needed for a constitutional amendment. The measure went to referendum, where Maine men soundly defeated it.

December 15, 1887
George J. Mitchell Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College
Library Collection

Susan B. Anthony headed the National Woman Suffrage Association’s efforts to convince Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment. In 1887, she wrote to Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine, a powerful Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, asking him to introduce the suffrage amendment, then known as the 16th amendment, and put it before the Judiciary Committee, of which he was a member.

She told him exactly what steps to take – and said women would support the Republican Party if it put suffrage in its platform. She frequently wrote to Reed, who later became Speaker of the House, asking him to talk at various events or seeking his support in Congress.

Reed had spoken and written in support of suffrage for women. His daughter, Katharine Reed Balentine, was a suffrage activist in California and later in Maine.

Maine State Museum