The Maine Women’s Lobby celebrated its 40th anniversary Oct. 4 at Innovation Hall at the University of New England’s Portland campus, with 400 Mainers treating founders, honorees and lobbyists to thunderous applause.

“Our honorees tonight represent the full range of issues that affect women,” said Executive Director Eliza Townsend. “They’re all incredibly accomplished.”

The honorees were board member Pat Ryan, past executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission; Judy Kahrl, founder of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights (GRR!); Joanne D’Arcangelo, former lobbyist for Maine Women’s Lobby; Fatuma Hussein, executive director of Immigrant Resource Center of Maine; and attorney Mary Bonauto, who successfully argued Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court in 2015.

“We must be more determined and more resilient,” Hussein said, “so that every little girl, including my four girls, have every right, and that their rights are protected.”

“The exuberance of those who are new Mainers and those who are younger to take up the issues of today is exhilarating for me,” said Ryan, who in 1974 led a statewide coalition to secure passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Maine Women’s Lobby started around a kitchen table, as Janet Mills, Lois Galgay Reckitt, Pat Ryan and Linda Smith Dyer met about the failure of a state bill that would have provided funding for (in 1970s terminology) “battered women’s shelters.” Their idea, which would become the Maine Women’s Lobby, was pretty simple: For state legislators to know what issues were really important to women, women would have to tell them.

“For the last 40 years, the lobby has opened the doors to the State House so women can tell their personal stories,” said D’Arcangelo. “When I was a lobbyist, we passed sexual harassment prevention legislation in 1991, the first state in the nation to do so.”

The Maine Women’s Lobby is now the longest existing women’s lobby organization in the country. Mills is running for governor, Reckitt is running for re-election to the Maine House of Representatives and Ryan is once again on the lobby’s board of directors. Longtime lobbyist Linda Smith Dyer died in 2001, but her daughter Lauren Jacobs is a current board member of the Maine Women’s Policy Center, the sister organization to the Maine Women’s Lobby.

“Democracy takes work, and it takes action,” Jacobs said. “As far as it has come, the work of feminists is not over.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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