Growing up, 84-year-old Dorothy Gardner of Marshfield lived in a house with no running water and clearly remembers having to haul it in buckets.

“We really appreciate water,” Gardner said, in a video submitted to the Women Mind the Water project. “I think our hardship made us appreciate everything we have, including our wonderful family.”

For Nancy Roe, 88, of Presque Isle, her most vivid memory of interacting with water was learning to swim for the first time as a 4-year-old.

“‘Lean over and splash your face,’ my grandfather called from the shore. I pinched my nose with my thumb and forefinger and lowered my face into the lake,” she said. “‘No! No holding your nose! Just hold your breath. Head down, arms up, now push off,’ he called out. I pushed off and lo and behold, I was actually lying on the water on my stomach.”

These are among the two dozen submissions Pam Ferris Olson has received since March, when she launched her project, collecting stories from Maine women about their everyday experiences with water. Olson, a 53-year-old freelance writing coach and editor from Freeport, was searching for a way to show appreciation for women and water when she decided to create the collection of videos, for which she’ll continue to accept submissons through late October.

Olson has always lived near the water and felt a strong connection to it, from growing up near Long Island Sound, to going to school in California by the Pacific Ocean, to living in Maine along its extensive coastline. She wanted to connect with other women who felt the same way.


“Nobody is celebrating the water resources in Maine,” Olson said. “Women, who have long been underappreciated stewards of natural resources, should be the ones to speak out about how water resonates in their life.”

Olson hopes to build a community of women who celebrate water and start conversations about its importance in Maine. Once she’s received enough videos, she plans on combining them into a video project that will be showcased on My Maine Stories, an online exhibit curated by the Maine Historical Society. The website houses written, audio and visual stories connecting Maine residents with the state’s history, said Kate McBrien, director of public engagement for the historical society. Half a dozen of the stories Olson has received have already been published on My Maine Stories.

Olson readies her kayak for a paddle from Freeport Harbor to Bustins Island.

Although Olson has been working on this project by herself, she has connected with officials of the Maine Historical Society, like McBrien, and the Smithsonian Institution so she can showcase her finished project. McBrien said Olson’s project aligns perfectly with My Maine Stories, which “help to bring Maine’s history to life through today’s Mainers and their personal stories.”

Olson only has a few guidelines for the submissions. She asks that videos, which can be recorded with a cellphone, be under three minutes in length. Women may also send in a written story or audio recording, along with a photograph of themselves. She also asks that anyone under 18 years old get permission from a parent or guardian before sending a submission to the project. Women are encouraged to tell any personal story of their interactions with water, from sipping on an ice-cold glass after a hot run, to floating in a pool, to canoeing in a lake.

In the months that Olson has been collecting videos, she’s also received stories from women out of state, from Florida to Oregon. She isn’t turning those videos away but plans on creating a separate collection that features stories from women across the country. For this aspect of her project, she’s working with the Smithsonian Institution and will have her digital project featured in the Museum on Main Street, a traveling exhibit. Several stories have recently been published on the Smithsonian site from Olson’s collection. Robbie Davis, director of the Smithsonian exhibit, talked with Olson several months ago about where her project would fit within the museum, and he told her about a project called Water/Ways, which incorporates local stories.

“(Olson’s) project not only adds an additional layer of content related to Water/Ways,” Davis said, “but it also opens a doorway to new and interesting stories that our users might not otherwise hear.”


Her work on the Women Mind the Water project has connected Olson with other opportunities to celebrate women and the water. Ann Kennedy, a professor of women and gender studies at the University of Maine Farmington, invited Olson to join a panel at the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta in November. The theme of the conference is “The Future of Water: Feminist Perspectives.” Olson hopes to use it as another platform to share her project.

Pam Ferris Olson paddles out of Freeport Harbor in her kayak. “Women, who have long been underappreciated stewards of natural resources, should be the ones to speak out about how water resonates in their life,” Olson said.

Kennedy, who has taught classes on water justice issues and how women have been environmental activists for water resources, said she was intrigued by Olson’s project and wanted to know more about it, as well as water issues in Maine.

“Pam’s project seems designed to help start those conversations,” Kennedy said, “beginning with women’s and girls’ everyday stories.” Olson hopes to have completed her project in time to showcase it at the Atlanta conference.

Sarah Redmond, the founder of Springtime Seaweed, a seaweed farm Down East, also reached out to Olson to invite her to the Maine Seaweed Fair last month at Snow Marine Park in Rockland.

“Women are naturally drawn to the sea and the plants of the sea, and I thought that the fair would be a good place to capture those stories,” Redmond said. “Women have an important role to play in our changing relationship to the ocean, and this project has the ability to have us look at our past, current and hopefully future connections to the sea.”

Olson was able to attend the Seaweed Fair and found it helpful to share the word about her project with people face-to-face, which resulted in a rise in video submissions, Olson said.


Olson is still focused on collecting submissions, but she hopes that when she puts them together, they can make some impact on the world.

“Water is essential to life. This is one little way I am trying to make a difference,” she said.

Julie Pike can be contacted at 400-6986 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: juliepike999

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