RIDING TOWARD SUFFRAGE- Florence Brooks Whitehouse takes a ride to support Women’s Suffrage. Photo Courtesy of Anne Gass
By Carla Charter
Along with Maine celebrating its bicentennial in 2020, the state will also be commemorating the state’s ratification of the 19th amendment, on November 6, 1919, giving women the right to vote. “We were the 19th state to ratify the 19th amendment in 1919,” according to Ellen Alderman, leader of the Maine Suffrage Centennial Collaborative. The two-year long commemoration will include Maine’s ratification of the 19th amendment as well as the passage of the 19th amendment nationally in 1920.
In 1873 the first Maine Woman’s Suffrage Association meeting was held. The first statewide Womans Suffrage Convention was held in Portland in 1885. “Over the next 30 years, suffrage bills were submitted to the all-male legislature and all were defeated. In 1917 the suffragettes placed the question before all of Maine voters on a statewide referendum. It went down to spectacular defeat with a two to one margin,” said Alderman.
Among the suffragist leaders involved in the fight to give women the right to vote was Florence Brooks Whitehouse. “She joined the Movement in 1913, was a member of the Maine Branch of the National Woman’s Party and from 1914 to 1916 chaired the Legislative Committeeof the Maines Woman’s Suffrage Association. She threw her lot in with the more radical suffragists, which made her unpopular in the then conservative Maine. She picketed President Wilson in Chicago and Washington, D.C. In editorials, she defended the more radical tactics of the Woman’s Suffrage Association. Her husband Robert was very supportive of his wife and the cause, forming and chairing a Men’s Suffrage League,” according to Anne Gass, great-granddaughter of Whitehouse and author of Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Women’s Suffrage.
“The 19th amendment technically enfranchised women but there was still voter suppression under Jim Crow laws and even in the North there was a lot of racial discrimination. Native Americans couldn’t vote in part because they would lose tribal sovereignty. It took a long time to allow the tribes to vote. That’s an important part of the story that needs to be told alongside the suffrage story too,” Gass said.
“African American and native Americans still today feel they are not enfranchised. We believe we should make every voice and every vote count. Our collaborative looks back with our eyes wide open and looks forward with our arms wide open, Alderman said.
As for the efforts to recognize the suffrage anniversary, Alderman said, “Over the last year we have been talking to a lot of people. We asked if within what they were doing, they could recognize suffrage as well,” Alderman said. Several organizations have also developed new programming around suffrage.
Maine events recognizing the ratification of the 19th amendment will include a joint resolution from the state legislature and a proclamation from Governor Janet Mills, Maine’s first female governor. There will a suffrage display at the Maine State Museum during women’s history month in March, an academic forum on suffrage held at the Maine Historical Society and a fall concert put on by the Girl Scouts. The Portland Stage Company will be producing an original play on the subject of Suffrage with staged readings around the state. The Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center is creating teacher lesson plans on the topic of suffrage, Alderman said. More information on the Maine Suffrage Centennial Collaborative can be found at www.mainesuffragecentennial.org
More information on Florence Brook Whitehouse can be found at www.florencebrookswhitehouse.com.