5 Remarkable Women of Maine’s History

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Photo courtesy of Frannie Peabody Center

Nothing says innovator like a botanist. No really, think back to the 19th century. Consider the long skirts, the blouses, the corsets. Now imagine spending day after day collecting specimens in bogs, fields and forests from Brunswick, Maine, to the Canadian border that no one else, not even the male naturalists at Harvard, had ever seen before. What about a photographer who, with those same skirts, lugged a massive camera around rural New England with heavy, breakable glass plates as her only film? Or a woman who hiked up those skirts to fly cast 100 feet and catch 52 trout in 44 minutes? Or a woman who was the only straight granny in an AIDS support group for young gay men? Or a woman whose vision of reproductive justice through education and, advocacy created a health center that gives women the power to control their own bodies? Discover below just five of the notable women from Maine history who used their education and independence to achieve, lead, learn, inspire and innovate.

Kate Furbish (1834-1931) was a pioneer in botanical exploration in Maine and founded the Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine in 1895. Her collection of 1,326 detailed drawings and paintings of wild plants and flowers resides at Bowdoin College. Her 4,000 dried samples are housed at Harvard’s Gray Herbarium. A wild snapdragon and a fern bear her name.

Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (1858-1937) documented rural New England through slow emulsion photography and was described by her successors as one of the “finest women photographers” of the early 20th century. The intimate vignettes of bathers, blacksmiths, clockmakers, picnickers, farmers and fishermen showed her skillful understanding of composition and light and captured a vanishing landscape and culture for posterity.

Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1845-1946) received the first registered Maine Guide license. She was an accomplished fisherwoman who caught a trout a minute and wrote about her experiences in newspapers and sports journals. Companies gifted gear for her review, and the Maine Central Railroad paid her to report on the pleasures of train travel. She helped create and staff the first Maine exhibit at the Sportsmen’s Expositions at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1895, promoting the Maine wilderness experience to 15,000 visitors. Later in life she championed catch-and-release conservation practices. She advocated for the promotion of fish and game preservation, more money and staff for the fish and wildlife department and a full list of guides for visitors.

Frances W. Peabody (1903-2001) led HIV/AIDS education and support efforts in Maine during a time when people were just learning about the disease. In 1984, her eldest grandchild was diagnosed with AIDS. After his death in 1985, her work led to the establishment of an AIDS hotline and support groups for friends and family affected by HIV/AIDS. She led one of these groups for over 10 years. She was a compassionate champion of gay rights and a regular grand marshal of the Gay Pride Parade in Portland. Today, the Frannie Peabody Center provides holistic case management that includes support, counseling, housing, education and testing to a diverse group of patients.

Mabel Sine Wadsworth (1910-2006) got her nursing degree in 1946 and championed reproductive health services. She worked throughout her life for full and comprehensive contraceptive and STI services, including confidential access for teens. She was an active grassroots organizer in rural Maine, organizing door-to-door campaigns to teach women about birth control in the ’50s and ’60s. She also volunteered with the League of Women Voters and was a founder of the Abnaki Girl Scouts. The private Bangor Health Center that bears her name opened in 1984 and supports health care needs of straight women and men and the LGBTQ community. She was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989.

Anna E. Jordan (annaejordan.com) is a writer and rowing coach working as an editor and special project coordinator at Islandport Press in Yarmouth. Follow her @annawritedraw for news about #kidlit, rowing and politics.

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