Dec. 6, 1819: Voters approve a draft of the forthcoming state of Maine’s new constitution. The “yes” side gets more than 90 percent of the vote.

Dec. 6, 1931: Botanist Kate Furbish, 97, dies in her hometown, Brunswick, after a six-decade career in which she walked all over the state to describe, depict and catalogue the state’s flora.

Merritt Lyndon Fernald, one of America’s most accomplished academic botanists, met Furbish when he was 6 years old and growing up in Orono. When he began publishing books on the flora of Maine, he cited Furbish as one of his major influences.

Kate Furbish, photographed in Brunswick around 1880 Image courtesy of the Pejepscot History Center

Furbish spent a few years as the chief botanist at the Poland Spring House, a resort that featured a massive hotel and greenhouses. Her duties included cataloging all the flora of the outlying area, and she frequently sent specimens to and received them from other researchers who were doing the same thing elsewhere.

As she grew older, she became more focused on collecting and painting images of wild plants, despite the daily pain of neuralgia that afflicted her hands and her feet.

One plant named for her, the Furbish’s lousewort, is so rare that the rediscovery of it in 1976 influenced the cancellation of a planned $1.3 billion hydroelectric project on the St. John River.

Dec. 6, 2001: Gov. Angus King swears in Leigh Saufley, 47, as the first female chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and the youngest.

Saufley, a University of Maine School of Law graduate, was one of the first female deputies in the Office of the Maine Attorney General, where she worked for 10 years. Gov. John McKernan appointed her to the District Court bench in 1990 and to Superior Court in 1993.

Supreme Court Justice Leigh Saufley responds to questions by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in Augusta at her confirmation hearing to be the first female chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Dec. 5. 2001. Staff Photo by Doug Jones

By April 2020, when she steps down to become the dean of the University of Maine School of Law, she has served as chief justice longer than any other person to hold the post except John Appleton, who held the job nearly 21 years, from 1862 to 1883.

During her tenure, Saufley advocates for increased funding for court staffing and infrastructure, especially to provide more courthouse security to protect crime victims and witnesses. Many courthouse security improvements are made during her tenure.

She also calls for additional funding for investment in mental health and addiction treatment.

At a Feb. 26, 2019, news conference, Saufley says: “In many instances, folks who are dealing with addiction and are engaging in inappropriate activity can and should be diverted from the criminal justice system into rehabilitation and back to health.”

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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