Gov. Janet Mills gives her inaugural address Jan. 4 in Augusta where she mentioned Maine’s first woman lawmaker, Dora Pinkham, and a prediction by the Lewiston Evening Journal’s editor. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

During her second inaugural address earlier this month, Gov. Janet Mills took a moment to point to a prediction made a century ago by Arthur G. Staples, editor of The Lewiston Evening Journal.

Rep. Dora Pinkham impressed fellow lawmakers during her first term in the state House as the first and only woman elected to the Maine Legislature. Portland Evening Express

Staples wrote in 1923 that “it may happen that, in after years, perhaps 2023, some woman Governor of Maine, and some legislature largely composed of women, may desire to know how the first woman legislator carried herself.”

That woman, Dora Bradbury Pinkham of Fort Kent, took office in January 1923 as the first woman to serve after 102 years of only male legislators.

“So!” Staples wrote a century ago, “In the year 2023, one hundred years hence, Dora Pinkham is thus presented to you …. Maine is ready for her sisters.”

And so it proved.

“Well, Arthur Staples, here we are!” Mills told Mainers in her speech. “I hope Dora Pinkham would be pleased to know that today half our congressional delegation are women; that a Black woman from Portland is our speaker of the House and that a woman whose own roots lie deep in Pinkham’s beloved county, has now taken the oath for the second time to serve as governor of the state.”


Lewiston Evening Journal for Jan. 3, 1923

Pinkham takes office in 1923

The Journal said that on the first day of the session in Augusta in 1923 that “probably no member of the House attracted more attention during the opening proceedings” than Pinkham, a 31-year-old former teacher from Fort Kent.

“She is the first woman to be a member of the House and as a result there was much speculation as to how she would fit,” the story by an unnamed writer said, adding that Pinkham spent most of the day “getting acquainted and watching the wheels go around.”

“Mrs. Pinkham has a cheery smile, a laughing kind of voice, can see a joke and is decidedly human in every way,” the Journal said, “not at all the type of person whom the comic papers are apt to represent as the woman who goes in for politics. It looks a mighty good bet to predict that she will be a popular member.”

The Portland Evening Express said Pinkham “was never a knocker, always a booster.”

Pinkham’s background

Born in the tiny town of New Limerick in Aroostook County, Dora Bradbury and her family moved to Fort Kent before she could walk.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University, Pinkham taught and did research back in Maine. She later served as a child welfare investigator. She married Niles Pinkham, a lumber industry executive.


Active in the Red Cross and other community organizations, the popular young woman took advantage of the opportunity to run for office soon after women gained the right to vote in Maine.

A Fort Kent resident with degrees from Mount Holyoke and Columbia, Dora Pinkham was among the most educated of the legislators who took office in January 1923. She was the only woman among them. Portland Evening Express

The Portland Evening Express said she “did not hurl her modish chapeau into the ring because she had any inherent idea that women were better qualified than men to take a hand in government, nor has she a streak of feminism in her makeup.”

It said she was persuaded to become a candidate after the GOP couldn’t find a businessman in her district willing to run.

“Her home duties were not particularly onerous and because she could spare the time better than the men could,” the Express said.

Pinkham won a House seat in the 1922 election at the age of 30 as a Republican in a district that normally preferred Democrats.

“She was the first but by no means the last,” wrote Sam Conner of the Journal.


Pinkham wowed her skeptics

A few months into her first term, the Waterville Morning Sentinel noted that Pinkham is “coming through the session with a well-established prestige that will do much to make the way far easier for successors of her sex.”

“She has done her work as well as any man could, still in a graceful, womanly way, and will be far more popular on the closing day than she was on the first.

“Mrs. Pinkham’s record will make it easier for other women to be elected but difficult for them to maintain the standard she has set,” the Morning Sentinel said.

“No member made more friends than she,” Conner wrote. He said she impressed her colleagues by insisting she receive no special treatment.

Pinkham’s observations

Pinkham once told a Portland reporter her recipe for the ideal woman legislator.

“Take a grain of cool judgment, a liberal sprinkling of common sense, a generous measure of willingness to work, a sense of fair play, readiness to appreciate the other fellow’s point of view, add to that good health, a pinch of oratorical ability and season the whole with a sense of humor,” she said.


Pinkham added, though, any legislator of either sex with such qualities would give “this or any other state” reason to be proud.

Pinkham, who never had any children, wasn’t convinced that Augusta needed a lot more women lawmakers.

“I should not advise women in any great numbers to run for office,” she told the Express. “Particularly I should not advise them to do it if they have a real job somewhere else, and included in the ‘real job’ I place a woman’s obligation to care for her small children, if she has them.”

Fundamentally, though, Pinkham saw little difference between men and women in politics.

“My feeling has always been that it didn’t pay to harp on the differences of sex,” she said. “After all a woman and a man were at heart just people, and not so radically unlike each other after all.”

“Souls have no gender,” Pinkham said. “They are neither masculine nor feminine, common nor neuter, and so men and women in the political arena are individuals first and men and women afterwards.”


Pinkham also once offered some journalistic advice to Conner, who would one day edit the Journal.

In 1923, Rep. Dora Pinkham became the first woman in the United States to preside over a session of a state legislature when she took the gavel for a time in the State House in Augusta. Lewiston Evening Journal

“Sometimes I feel that newspapers do not always get the woman’s viewpoint, the angle from which she looks at things is what I mean,” Pinkham said. “Take in our legislative matters, there are lots of things which women are decidedly interested in yet which get scant space in the papers.”

She said that reporters and editors, nearly all men in those days, “don’t stand on the same knoll as we do when looking at those things.”

“If I were to be a reporter,” Pinkham said, “I should try to get these things which ought to interest the women and tell them about it.”

In later years, Pinkham kept busy

After losing a reelection bid to the House in 1924, Pinkham won election to the state Senate, one of two women elected in 1926 to gain a Senate seat. She won reelection before departing from the State House.

Her biggest achievement as a legislator was pushing the construction of a bridge between Fort Kent and New Brunswick, a key economic development step.

During the Great Depression, she remained active in the Republican Party on both the state and national level. She also focused considerable attention on women’s business clubs and speaking to groups around the state.

Pinkham died in 1941, remembered in a few paragraphs by The Associated Press and then largely forgotten.

But history never quite forgets.

As the Journal’s Conner sagely noted years earlier in a story about Pinkham, “She had made easier the path of women members who were to follow her.”

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