The first female governor of Maine, Janet Mills, hosted 275 Mainers, mostly women wearing suffragette white, for an afternoon tea party on the lawn of the Blaine House on Aug. 26, celebrating 100 years since Maine ratified the 19th Amendment.

The actual anniversary is on Election Day in November. The 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in August 1920.

“Every one of us has a relative, a near relative, a grandmother or great-grandmother who couldn’t vote,” said Ellen Alderman, chair of the Suffrage Centennial Collaborative.

Director of Boards and Commissions Melissa O’Neal, Gov. Janet Mills and Erin Ovalle, an appointee to Friends of the Blaine House.

Event coordinator Leslie Oster, director of the Blaine House, said, “I think one of the most interesting things that came about with this event is the number of stories that some of the older ladies shared in their RSVPs, sharing that their mother, aunt or grandmother was part of the original movement and then having the celebration here at the Blaine House, 100 years after the ratification and having the first woman governor was thrilling for them.”

Among people of color and indigenous people, the granting of voting rights for Maine women is another generation or two more recent. As an acknowledgment of that, Mills welcomed Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana, who brought her 10- and 12-year-old daughters.

“I talked with them about how the suffrage centennial was important for women in Maine but for women in some groups, it wasn’t automatic,” Dana said, adding that her daughters enjoyed exploring the Blaine House.

“Suffrage is still an important topic today,” said Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, former chief executive officer of Goodwill Northern New England. She quoted her grandmother, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, saying, “If you want something done, ask a woman.”

“I’m excited to get students involved in a historical year,” said Julianne Siegfriedt, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. “It’s a centennial of a major moment in women’s history.”

“Women used everything they had, from the breath in their lungs to the ink in their pens and the strength in their bodies to fight for the equal right to vote,” Mills said, giving tribute to Maine suffragists such as Isabel Greenwood (the wife of Chester Greenwood, inventor of earmuffs). “It is because of the words, pens, poems and voices of these women and because of their dogged determination that we stand here today to mark this important centennial, and it is from them that we continue to draw inspiration.”

The Suffrage Centennial Tea included a reading of an excerpt from the Portland Stage original play “Perseverance” by Callie Kimball, a short performance from members of the Women in Harmony chorus and an encore performance of Boys & Girls Club members Natalia Mbadu and Shy Paca, singing “Girl on Fire” even more confidently than they did at Mills’ inauguration.

Guests were invited by hosting organizations Friends of the Blaine House, the Mills Administration, the First Amendment Museum, Maine State Museum and the Suffrage Centennial Collaborative. All members of state legislative, judicial and executive branches were invited as well.

Genie Gannett, representing the First Amendment Museum in Augusta, said that her grandmother, Anne Gannett, was president of the Augusta Women’s Suffrage organization. Anne Gannett’s husband, Sen. Guy Gannett, former publisher of the Portland Press Herald, supported the suffrage movement by introducing the bill that ultimately led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in Maine. Meanwhile, his mother, Sadie Gannett, was anti-suffrage. All to say, political differences within a family are nothing new.

For information on suffrage-related events throughout the year, go to mainesuffragecentennial.org.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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