Did you know that the daffodil was the symbol for Maine suffragists during their fight for the right to vote? That right was secured in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Here at the Gannett House, we have a historical connection to the Maine suffragette movement. Anne Gannett, the wife of Guy P Gannett and former resident of the house that is now the First Amendment Museum, was a leader of the suffrage movement in Augusta, Maine.

Free Speech

During Anne’s time, it was considered shocking for a woman to speak to mixed-gender crowds in public. Conventions featuring female speakers were attacked by mobs, and Susan B. Anthony herself said, “No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public.” Opponents were afraid of women spreading their radical ideas about the right to vote, or suffrage. As many of the founders of the suffrage movement had also been involved in the abolition and temperance movement, they understood the importance of speaking as a group in order to advance their cause. Image: Suffrage lecture announcement, Belfast, ca. 1915, from Maine Historical Society

Interestingly enough, the suffrage movement propelled other women – even women who were fundamentally opposed to women’s involvement in politics – into politics. These women were known as “Antis”, and Anne Gannett’s mother-in-law, Sadie Gannett, was one. Despite their belief that women would be corrupted by politics, Antis organized as much as Suffragists did by producing and distributing anti-suffrage pamphlets, letters, and slogans.

Guy Gannett, who was a member of the Maine legislature at the time, found himself caught in the middle – with a Suffragist wife and an Anti mother. He famously wore a daffodil, symbol of the Suffragists, on one lapel and a red rose, symbol of the Antis, on the other.

Free Press?

Despite the free press being a cornerstone of American democracy, many contemporary mainstream papers trivialized, ridiculed, or ignored the suffragist movement.

And while Comfort Magazine, William Gannett’s publication, featured women writers, their articles focused exclusively on domestic topics and not the suffrage movement.

Image: excerpt from Comfort Magazine, December 1919

Using the Right to Petition

Through the abolitionist and temperance movements, women learned about the power of gathering signatures and submitting petitions. They used these same tactics in the suffrage movement. At the time, no one expected the government to take real action, so petitions were used as a way to build consensus and reflect on the will of the people.

Image: a 1917 petition signed by 1233 Bangor residents in favor of the suffrage referendum

Arrested for Assembly

8,000 suffragists descended on Washington, D.C. the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913 to advocate for suffrage. In fact, suffragists were the first group to protest outside the White House. Suffragists burned an effigy of President Wilson and copies of his speeches in front of the White House and were promptly arrested. While in jail, some suffragists began a hunger strike.

Wilson, aware of both the negative press and the growing political strength of the movement, publicly endorsed women’s suffrage in his second term, in 1918. It took another year before there were enough votes in Congress to support the passage of the 19th Amendment, and then another year before there were enough states to ratify – or formally approve – the amendment giving women the right to vote.

Image: Maine Governor Carl Milliken signing that he will ratify the 19th Amendment, with Anne Gannett second from left

For the last century Maine women have taken an ever-expanding role in politics. Dora Pinkham was the first woman elected to the Maine legislature in 1923, and Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to serve in both the US House of Representatives (1940–49) and the US Senate (1949–73) and the first woman to represent Maine in Washington, D.C. More recently, Olympia Snowe represented Maine in the US Senate from 1995 – 2013.

Today half of Maine’s federal delegation is female – Senator Susan Collins and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. And within the Maine legislature, there are more women than ever, with just over a third of State Senators and Representatives being women.

In November 2019, citizens all over the state of Maine planted thousands of daffodil bulbs designed to bloom this year during the National Suffrage Centennial, and every year thereafter as a bright and beautiful tribute to the Suffragette Movement. The First Amendment Museum took part as well, and now the daffodils are finally blooming in our garden, just steps away from the dome of the State Capitol and the Blaine House, home to Maine’s first female governor, Janet Mills.

Daffodils in bloom in the lawn of the First Amendment Museum , May 2020

Learn more about the history of the suffrage movement in Maine at the Women’s Suffrage Centennial, including more information on the Daffodil Tribute project.

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A new museum dedicated to the First Amendment will have artifacts from the journalism industry, exhibits on First Amendment champions, and newspapers and other publications by the Gannett family and other Maine publishers on display.

But organizers say the museum in the 1911 ornate but run-down former Gannett family home beside the Blaine House isn’t really going to be about the exhibits.

“It will have some artifacts, but it’s really about the ideas,” Genie Gannett said of the concept.

The museum in the Gannett House at 184 State St. in Augusta is scheduled to open in late 2017.

Genie Gannett, president of the Gannett House Project, and her sister Terry Gannett Hopkins, vice president of the organization, announced Tuesday the purchase of the building by the Gannett House Project, through the Pat and John Gannett Family Foundation, which is named for their parents.

Gannett Sisters
Genie Gannett, right, and Terry Gannett Hopkins. Photo credit Andy Molloy, Central Maine

They said it will serve as a “concept museum” about the First Amendment and the freedom of religion, speech, and the press, and the rights of people to assemble peaceably and to petition the government.

“The role of the Gannett House is to inspire the next generation and educate them and instill that appreciation for the First Amendment,” Hopkins said.

The Gannett House Project recently acquired the building from the state for $378,000 and plans to put about $1.5 million of private money into turning it into an interactive tribute to the First Amendment. The house, most recently used by the State Planning Office, was originally the home of late Guy P. Gannett, a newspaper owner and freedom of speech defender.

The yellow stucco Mediterranean Revival building was built in 1911 by publishing magnate William H. Gannett as a wedding gift to his son, Guy P. Gannett, who founded the Guy Gannett Publishing Co. The company grew to include the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald newspapers and WGAN-TV – later WGME – and WGAN radio. William H. Gannett founded Comfort magazine, the first American periodical to reach a circulation of 1 million.

The museum will have displays telling the story of First Amendment champions, including Elijah Parish Lovejoy and Harriet Beecher Stowe, will explain the First Amendment and the rights it protects, and have a digital archive of historic Maine newspapers.

Earle Shettleworth Jr., state historian, said the building itself is a significant property, part of the State House complex, and part of an area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“To assure the future of this house is very important,” Shettleworth said, noting the building’s unusual-for-Maine stucco walls and grand, modern and fashionable styling made a dramatic statement when it was built. “To place it on State Street, right next to the Blaine House, was making an even further statement of, really, the stature of the Gannett family and stature of their newspapers.”

The Gannett family sold the company – by then called Guy Gannett Communications – in 1998. Guy P. Gannett sold the house in the 1920s, when the family moved to Cape Elizabeth.

The 5,000-square-foot house, once grand, has deteriorated over the years, especially since it was left vacant, in 2010, when the State Planning Office moved out. The state acquired it in the 1970s.

Genie Gannett said the first steps will be to make sure the building is stable and hire a planner to design the museum. It will need extensive restoration and renovation, she said.

She said her group hopes to have the place ready to open in late 2017, which she said is an ambitious timeline.

She said it had hoped originally to have started sooner, but the process of buying the property from the state took longer than expected.

Originally published by Keith Edwards for the Portland Press Herald.

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