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Castine’s Women – On the Forefront of Social Change and Public Service

Photo:  Polly Porter driving the Suffrage Wagon in the Berlin (MA) Old Home Day Parade, 1914


Castine – The Castine Historical Society’s 2017 exhibit was such a success that the Historical Society has brought it back, but with a new focus. This season’s exhibit, Castine’s Devoted Women: Social Change and Public Service, will again focus on Mary W. (Molly) Dewson and Mary G. (Polly) Porter, their life together in New York and Castine, and the significant role Molly played in 1930s American politics. The storyline is based on 28 scrapbooks made by the Porter-Dewsons (as they called themselves), using their own photos and words that explored topics important to them. While the exhibit focuses on Molly and Polly, they were not the only women in Castine who made a difference on the local, regional, and national levels as the exhibit portrays.

Castine’s Devoted Women: Social Change and Public Service is open from June 11 – Columbus Day at the Castine Historical Society, 17 School Street, Castine. All exhibits and education programs of the Castine Historical Society are free. Open hours from June 11 – Labor Day are Monday-Saturday 10-4 and Sundays 1-4. Hours from Labor Day to Columbus Day are Friday, Saturday and Monday 10-4 and Sunday 1-4. This exhibit is generously sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank.

This year’s exhibit will highlight Castine women who have devoted their lives to politics, social reform, public service, women’s rights, and marriage equality – all subjects of great interest to the Porter-Dewsons. These and other topics bring the exhibit’s concept of “Castine’s devoted women” to a new level for first-time visitors and those who have seen the exhibit previously.

Many of these themes are in today’s news. What was termed a “Boston marriage” of two independent women like the Porter-Dewsons in 1912 is now a federally sanctioned same-sex marriage.  The woman’s right to vote, which did not win support among Castine men in 1919, changed the lives of Castine women in 1920 as they began to vote and entered political office. Molly Dewson’s ground-breaking research for wage and hour legislation begun before 1920 gained momentum and passage across the country. That same battle is still being fought today.

The exhibit also explores Molly Dewson’s favorite project to promote with her friends, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, which was the advancement of qualified women in government jobs. The exhibit documents how women’s roles in Washington have changed since Molly pushed President Roosevelt to appoint Frances Perkins as his Secretary of Labor – America’s first woman cabinet member. The exhibit also features other Castine women in public service or politics, many of whom will be recognizable to visitors.

The Castine Historical Society serves as a window into Castine’s extraordinary past. The Society preserves local history and hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions, lectures, town walking tours, house and garden tours, and historic reenactments. The Grindle House offices and research library are open year-round and researchers are welcome by appointment. For more information visit, call 207-326-4118 or email [email protected].

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