The Farmington Historical Society discovered in recent years that Farmington’s own Isabel Greenwood was instrumental in the fight for women’s right to vote in Maine. Greenwood’s work, alongside other local suffragettes, transformed Farmington and Franklin County into a hub for the women’s suffrage movement. The historical society will unveil a plaque in May to serve as a historical marker for Greenwood and Farmington’s roles in the suffrage movement. Pictured is an image of Greenwood alongside the historical society’s archival documents on the women’s suffrage movement in Farmington. At left is an essay Greenwood wrote for the Franklin Journal in 1917 urging men to approve a referendum question giving women in Maine the right to vote. At right are petition slips signed by women in Franklin County to get that referendum question on the ballot for a special election in September 1917. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Editor’s Note: Bringing Women’s History Month to a close, The Franklin Journal dove into the history of women’s rights and the suffrage movement in Farmington and Franklin County – and how commemorating that history has an impact on the uncertain future of women’s rights.

FARMINGTON — Until recent years, the Farmington Historical Society’s understanding of Isabel Greenwood’s story was mostly as the wife of Chester Greenwood, inventor of the earmuffs.

America celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment – giving (many, but not all) women the right to vote – in 2020.

Ahead of the centennial, the historical society in 2019 began looking into the history of suffrage in Farmington and Franklin County, Farmington Historical Society President Jane Woodman said.

“We wanted to celebrate the adoption of the 19th amendment. The historical society had never done much research in that area – at least I wasn’t aware of it,” said Claudia Bell, secretary of the historical society.

Delving into their archives and further research, the historical society learned that Isabel’s role in the women’s suffrage movement – already somewhat known – was much more extensive than previously thought.


Bell said certain documents point toward Isabel’s involvement with Chester’s business – perhaps running the books.

And “Isabel ran the household,” Woodman said she was told by Abbie Greenwood – Isabel’s granddaughter-in-law who recently passed away.

But for the most part, Bell and Woodman said Isabel was known in the history books for her marriage.

After finding hints of Isabel’s roles in their archives, Bell and Woodman traveled to the University of Maine in Orono to do more research.

At the Fogler Library, Bell and Woodman discovered a book published in 1998 by University of Maine at Farmington alumni Lynn Lister (then a student) titled “Isabel W. Greenwood and the women’s suffrage movement.”

Moving forward, the historical society began uncovering many documents indicating Isabel was, in fact, a leader for women’s suffrage in Maine at large; and Farmington, the host to the regional movement.


“Everyone always thinks of her as the wife of Chester Greenwood,” Bell said.

The Farmington Historical Society now has the proof in the pudding that Isabel wasn’t “just Chester’s wife anymore,” Woodman said – “she was a woman in her own right.”

At the Titcomb House in Farmington on Tuesday, March 29, the Franklin Journal sifted through the historical society’s archive of documents on the suffrage movement in Farmington and Franklin County.

In 1906, Isabel organized the Farmington Equal Suffrage League and in the following year, the Franklin County Equal Suffrage League.

At homes across town and the Old South First Congregational Church on Main Street in Farmington, the leagues hosted a long list of events promoting women’s suffrage.

They held debates with anti suffragists, meetings, presentations on suffrage, conventions and more.


Most notably, the Franklin County Equal Suffrage League hosted the 27th annual Maine Suffrage Association Convention in 1907, where Isabel gave an address of welcome and introduced the keynote speaker, New Hampshire Women’s Suffrage Association President Mary N. Chase.

Isabel over the years clearly left an impression on the state’s suffrage movement.

Letters sent between Isabel and members of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association can be found in the historical society’s archives, as well as the University of Maine’s archive of the “Greenwood Papers” – 98 pages of documents on Maine’s suffrage movement collected by Isabel.

However, Isabel was not the only voice in the movement for women’s rights from Farmington.

In September 1917, Mainers went to the polls for a special election voting on a referendum question to grant women the right to vote.

In order to get the referendum question on the ballot, suffragists across Maine collected over 5,000 signatures, according to the Free Press.


Of those 5,000 signatures, around 520 (10%) came from Franklin County towns – Avon, Carthage, Industry, Chesterville, Jay and the large majority from Farmington. That number made up around 2.6% of Franklin County’s approximate population, according to Decennial Census Data from 1920.

“There was never a time when it was so evident that women are not only willing but able to serve the country in every branch of service and that their interests are vitally affected by government, its laws and their execution,” Isabel wrote in an eight-page essay for the Franklin Journal encouraging men to approve the referendum in advance of the election.

“Now, your women neighbors have been asked, more than one half desire it, let all men heed the exhortation of the Franklin Journal and vote for woman suffrage on Sept. 10,” she urged.

That referendum effort ultimately failed at the polls. But the Maine Women’s Suffrage Association and Franklin County Suffrage League continued the fight.

The 19th amendment was finally ratified by Maine in 1920. Moving forward, the Farmington and Franklin County Equal Suffrage Leagues transformed into a local chapter of the League of Women Voters “to educate the state’s newest voters,” according to a 1985 article from the Morning Sentinel.

All of this history does beg the question of how a tiny rural county landed itself in the center of the fight for women’s rights in Maine.


It seems the Town of Farmington – beyond its active suffragettes – also threw their support behind women’s right to vote.

Archival documents note that posters advocating for women’s suffrage were hung in the storefronts of local businesses. The Farmington Grange – where the Greenwoods were members – was also in support of women’s suffrage – following the National Grange’s lead.

The local support (though of course not without opposition) spurred from a variety of reasons, according to Bell, Woodman, and Marian Sharoun, former president and current trustee of the Farmington Historical Society.

Sharoun said the support of the Grange likely came from the longstanding principle that “men and women have equal status.”

According to “Sisters of the Grange: Rural Feminism in the Late Ninteenth Century” by Donald B. Marti, the Grange “began with a cautiously limited commitment to uplift farm women.”

“[The Grange] came to support equal suffrage only when feminist members artfully reinterpreted that commitment,” Marti wrote.


Sharoun thinks that the Grange’s principle of equality helped suffragettes gather more signatures from Grange members in Franklin County.

Another factor, Bell said, was how a number of women ran businesses in town.

In addition, the Greenwood family’s status as integral, well-respected members of the Farmington community impacted the image of women’s suffrage.

“They were very active socially,” Woodman said.

A banner advocating for women’s suffrage sits alongside Isabel Greenwood’s wedding dress and a desk belonging to inventor Chester Greenwood, her husband, at the Titcomb House in Farmington. The Farmington Historical Society has in recent years focused in on Greenwood’s role as an important suffragette in Maine. Greenwood and Farmington’s contributions to the fight for women’s voting rights will be honored with a plaque in downtown Farmington. The plaque, to serve as a historical marker, will be unveiled in May. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Isabel was a philanthropist, grange member and member of other organizations in town such as fraternities, book clubs, literary guilds, etc., Sharoun and Woodman noted.

The fact that Isabel was leading this movement in Farmington (and that Chester was also a member of the Equal Suffrage League) likely held a lot of weight, Woodman said.


Female suffragettes “did have the support of their husbands,” Bell said, thanks to the independence and higher status of women in Farmington.

This much is clear in the signatures on the petition for the referendum initiative. A large majority of the signatures are from married women declaring their marital status and to whom they are married.

Bell and Woodman also feel that the affluence and education level of the area are to thank.

With UMF at the center of town – as well as local schools where both genders were allowed to study – women had the education to read, write and ultimately, want more for themselves.

Opportunities for women to be educated “helped to give the idea of equality and the importance of the woman’s voice,” Bell said.

Realizing the importance of education’s role in the women’s suffrage movement, the historical society will erect a plaque in May outside the Old South Church honoring Isabel and Farmington’s role in the suffrage movement.


The plaque – 1.5 feet by 3.2 feet, 50 pounds, on a seven foot pole – will mark the location of the 27th annual Maine Woman Suffrage Association Convention.

The historical markers in Farmington and beyond are funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation and National Votes for Women Trail to “commemorate the people, places or things instrumental to women gaining the right to vote in the United States.”

“It adds another chapter of [Farmington’s] history, the Greenwood family’s history and also the women’s rights movement’s history,” Woodman said.

“It took 70 years to get [women’s voting rights],” Sharoun added. “[It’s important to] highlight how much work went into it and that a local woman was instrumental.”

Strengthening education on women’s suffrage and Farmington’s role in the movement is also important, Bell and Sharoun agreed.

“A lot of kids can’t imagine that it was only 100 years ago when we got the right to vote and [dealt with] other issues having to do with voting,” Sharoun said.


Woodman referenced a time in 2018 when she was giving a tour on the history of Farmington to UMF students. The students (most likely seniors) were studying education to teach social studies.

Woodman brought up the suffrage movement. When Professor Kathryn Will asked the students if they knew what the suffrage movement was, Woodman said “very few people knew.”

“I was shocked, taken aback,” Woodman said. “It was flabbergasting.”

Bell said she’s heard from her grandchildren – who live on the West Coast – that their education on government and civics is also lacking.

“When you are not teaching young people how important it is to be aware and involved in our government, then it’s easy for people to be misinformed and to not think about what causes these present [issues] to happen,” Bell said.

Bell believes education on voting rights history will encourage young people to engage with their government and vote.


“Women have died for the right to vote. We owe it to our grandmothers and great grandmothers and our children to not take that privilege, that right lightly,” Bell said.

So this plaque, the three women hope will not only add to town history but foster a deeper appreciation of voting, stress that voting rights haven’t always been a given.

The plaque, Bell and Sharoun said, also comes at an important time in American history with issues regarding the same principles as a woman’s right to vote.

Laws across the country are imposing restrictions on women’s rights to bodily autonomy and voting that experts say will have a negative impact on the voting rights of lower-income people and people of color.

“Legis­lat­ors in at least 27 states have intro­duced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrict­ive [voting] provi­sions,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

“In the United States there has been an all-out attack on abortion rights, with state governments introducing more abortion restrictions in 2021 than in any other year,” according to Amnesty International.

Come June or July, experts anticipate the Supreme Court will altogether overrule Roe v. Wade (“the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion”) – despite polling from the Pew Research Center that shows “59% of [American adults] say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.”

The plaque will serve as a reminder that the fight is not over – even if there’s a difficult journey ahead.

“Women worked long and hard for many years and they gave up their lives sometimes to achieve [their rights],” Bell said. “This plaque needs to remind people it wasn’t easy to get to this point [in the rights of marginalized people] – and we’re not going to give it up now that we have it.”

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