Polly Welts Kaufman

HARPSWELL – Polly Welts Kaufman was a historian, educator, naturalist, and author of many books and articles, including “National Parks and the Woman’s Voice” and “Women Teachers on the Frontier”. Her scholarly work focused on the personal experiences and practical achievements of diverse women in American history, and she was a lifelong advocate for the empowerment of all women.

She died at her coastal home amongst tall pines in Harpswell on Jan. 22, 2023 at the age of 93.

Born on Dec. 20, 1929 in Cambridge, Mass., she graduated from Pembroke College (1951), received her M.A. at the University of Washington (1953), and earned her Ed.D. from Boston University (1987), writing her dissertation on nineteenth-century suffrage efforts by women to get elected to the Boston School Committee.

Polly enjoyed a long association with the University of Massachusetts, where she co-created and co-taught the core course for training local women to serve as librarians in the Boston Public Schools, where she worked with Barbara Elam and other colleagues to establish more than 100 school libraries (1967-1987). She moved to Harpswell in 1991, and was visiting professor at Bowdoin College that year, and associate professor at the University of Southern Maine (1995-2014), where she organized an original course in the history of the inhabitants of the Casco Bay islands. Polly was also a Fulbright Scholar teaching American Studies in Norway (1999-2000 and 2005).

She co-founded the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, and worked collaboratively to develop similar trails in Portland and Brunswick, as well as in Norway. She was on the board of the Pejepscot Historical Society, serving as its president during the 1990s.

Polly had a deep lifelong affection for the natural world, especially Haskell Island, where she spent time in childhood and then again beginning in 1961 and almost every year thereafter. Her personal writings that emerged over many decades were published as “The Changing Tides of Maine: Rediscovered Poems (2021)”.

She was married to Roger W. Kaufman Sr. for 57 years, and together they hiked all 48 of the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Polly is survived by many good friends and family members, including her daughter, Katharine, of Longmont, Colo., her son, Roger Jr., of Volcano, Hawaii; and her brother-in-law, Louis Kaufman, of Clinton, Iowa.

A memorial will be held in June in Harpswell. Please email [email protected] for more information.

Donations in Polly Kaufman’s memory can be made to the League of Women Voters or the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.

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