SKOWHEGAN — Two speakers at Friday’s annual meeting of the Margaret Chase Smith Library described the sexism they encountered in their roles as a state lawmaker and a former candidate for the Legislature.

Speakers Ellie Espling and Anna Kellar shared their experiences as the library marked the history of women’s suffrage and discussed Smith’s place in history.

Espling, former state representative and co-founder of SHE Leads, a Maine Republican Party initiative that seeks to identify, train and support Republican women to be political leaders at a local, state or national level, discussed her experiences running for office, which she said included examples of sexism.

Espling, who has a degree in business administration, said she never saw herself being immersed in politics. Shortly after her family moved to New Gloucester, however, she became chairwoman of the community’s Republican Party.

Candace Kanes, at the podium in back, delivers a timeline Friday of women’s suffrage movement, at the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan.

And when it became clear no one in her area was going to run for the Republican seat in the Maine House of Representatives, she decided to go for it.

“I had been involved with campaigns over the years, so I understood some of the mechanisms that I needed for my campaign,” Espling said.

“The meeting was with men. All were much older than me. (I asked them) how campaigning and serving would impact my family. They said no big deal, no problem. I could make it work and the schedule was not bad.

“My first impression of the meeting was that I was not getting a full picture of what this endeavor would include.”

After she spoke with a woman from a nearby town, she decided to campaign for the office.

“Even though it would be hard, I knew I could do it too,” Espling said. “I pulled together a diverse group of people in town to talk about planning, and we decided early on that we wanted a strong campaign. We would do as much as we could with the time that we had, andwin or lose we would feel good about the work put in.”

After winning her seat, she said, she experienced sexism both in state government and from the news media.

“The media has a fascination for women running for office,” Espling said. “A reporter wanted to talk to me for a story and asked me: ‘So you have kids? How do you manage to do this job?’

“I replied with, ‘Why don’t you go down the hall and talk to one of the other Republican men in leadership and wonder how they manage to do this.'”

“(The reporter) admitted right away that his question sounded incredibly sexist and apologized,” she said. “When women run, they win just as often as men. We just don’t have enough women running.”

Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said she learned in fifth grade just how prominent sexism was at her school, when her school hosted a presidential tea at which the male students were given presidential roles to research and play and female students were given first lady roles.

“It struck me as unfair that I had to be a first lady and not a president,” Kellar, who identifies as “nonbinary,’ said. “I knew it was wrong and I didn’t want my political ambitions to be defined by gender, nor did I want to vote based on gender.”

Kellar also ran for a seat in the state Legislature, but lost.

Harley Rogers, a fourth-year student at the University of Maine, presents details of the research she did for her honors thesis.

“I was disappointed, but I learned so much about issues that people were facing and pushing through barriers,” Kellar said.

“I kept thinking about how lucky I was to be in this position and to be running in a race with two other qualified, good people.”

Another speaker, Candace Kanes, an independent historian and co-curator of the Maine State Museum Exhibit, “Women’s Long Road — 100 Years to the Vote,” gave a detailed timeline of the suffrage movement in the state of Maine while also providing a slideshow of political documents and photos.

Kanes said that while Margaret Chase Smith was not a suffragette, she benefited from their actions. Smith was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, the first woman to represent Maine and the first woman to be nominated for the presidency at a major party convention.

Harley Rogers, a fourth-year political science student at the University of Maine, gave presentations from her honors thesis project, “Female Political Campaigns: Just the Right Amount of Femininity.”

For her thesis, Rogers looked at how female presidential candidates form their identity to match social and gendered expectations while they pursue their political aspirations.

“What I’ve done is identify three core pieces of Margaret Chase Smith’s identity that really speak to the dynamic of her being a housewife and the image of being a senator,” Rogers said.

“There’s really a commitment to the feminine presentation of herself, and as a senator, she frequently got requests across the nation for her recipes.”

“Would a male senator be asked for his recipes?” Rogers said. “I would guess not, but she was — so much so that she had them printed on Senate stationary ready to go. The bulk of my research is recipes and how they can be used as a tool.”

 


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