Remote bay north of Phippsburg Center. Emma Sewall photo, contributed by Amanda Pleau

Bath’s Maine Maritime Museum is shining light on the work of three female photographers who documented key moments of Maine maritime history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The exhibit, “Women Behind the Lens,” opens on Dec. 9.

For 60 years, the nonprofit museum has welcomed visitors to learn about the work of shipbuilders, sea captains and blacksmiths in what has historically been a male-dominated industry. Now, with an all-women curatorial team, museum staff decided it was time to tell the stories of those who were behind the scenes.

“When we think about maritime industries and shipbuilding, it is a very male-dominated field,” said Exhibition Coordinator Catherine Cyr. “It’s time to focus on women’s roles. Most of these women have disappeared from the history books; we only remember their husbands and fathers.”

Sifting through over 100,000 photographs in the museum’s collection, Cyr assembled an exhibit of 50 images taken by Emma D. Sewall (1836-1919) and Abbie F. Minott (1874-1944) of Phippsburg and Josephine Ginn Banks (1863-1958) of Bucksport. Cyr said the three women purchased cameras during the amateur photography movement in the late 19th century and turned an expensive hobby into something of historical significance.

Emma D. Sewall was a shipbuilder’s wife who captured scenic images of Bath as well as “highly dramatized images of labor,” Cyr said. Sewell was an award-winning photographer, showing her work across the U.S. and Europe, whose only historical recognition is as a “footnote” on her husband’s Wikipedia page, according to Cyr.

Josephine Ginn Banks photographed regions like Vinalhaven and focused on portrait photography to document the lives of locals from birth to adulthood. Cyr said Banks’ experimentation with backdrops, poses and props in her photographs distinguished her work.


Abbie F. Minott was the daughter of a shipbuilder who documented her family’s life at the 1774 Bed and Breakfast in Phippsburg, which is still in business today. She also photographed the workers at her father’s shipyard, building vessels from start to finish, providing some of the only existing images of the Minott shipyard.

Minott yard with planked and painted hull on the stocks. Abbie F. Minott photo, contributed by Amanda Pleau

Cyr said the exhibit is a chance to “rewrite the script” and bring focus to a group that has been overlooked.

This is the first time the work of these three women has been on display together.

As a Maine native and Bowdoin College graduate, Cyr said she feels a “kinship” with the photographers and is proud to present their work to museumgoers. She said the exhibit was only possible with the help of volunteers who stayed late to scan and frame photos. The museum currently has over 200 volunteers.

Museum Director Amanda Pleau said Women Behind the Lens is a continuing effort made by the museum to bring attention to “underrepresented perspectives.” She referenced a past exhibit “Cotton Town,” which investigated Maines’s contributions to trafficking enslaved people during the 19th-century shipbuilding industry.

Pleau said she has “high hopes” for the exhibit and expects visitors will learn something new about maritime history through the camera lens of these three historic documentarians.

For more information about the exhibit, visit

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