Suffrage plaque for Isabel Greenwood unveiled in Farmington (2022)

Suffrage plaque for Isabel Greenwood unveiled in Farmington (1)

Marion “Toosie” Sharoun carries a banner in honor of Isabel Greenwood, “Farmington’s Suffragist” at an unveiling ceremony for a plaque honoring Greenwood’s work in the fight for women’s right to vote at Old South Church in Farmington Thursday, Aug. 18. The plaque is a marker on the National Votes for Women Trail honoring suffragists across Maine and the country. Greenwood’s plaque also marks the location of the 27th Annual Maine Suffrage Association Convention held in 1907, hosted by the Franklin County Equal Suffrage League. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Isabel Greenwood was marked in history at a plaque unveiling in downtown Farmington Thursday, Aug. 18.

Isabel’s plaque is part of National Votes for Women Trail, which honors suffragists who worked to get women the right to vote with historical markers across America.

Isabel Greenwood was the wife of famed inventor Chester Greenwood of Farmington. Until recent years, she was most known for that relationship.

Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, granting women the constitutional right to vote the Farmington Historical Society gradually developed its collection on the history of women’s suffrage in Farmington and Franklin County. They quickly discovered Isabel played a major role in the fight for women’s suffrage in Maine.

The historical society’s records indicate Isabel was a leader for women’s suffrage in Farmington, Franklin County and Maine.

Among many other kinds of action, Isabel was the founder of the Farmington Equal Suffrage League and the Franklin County Equal Suffrage League; with the Equal Suffrage League, host of the 1907 Annual Maine Suffrage Association Convention held in Farmington; and a key organizer in petitioning to get a referendum question for women’s suffrage on the Maine state ballot in 1917.

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On Thursday, the Farmington Historical Society unveiled the plaque. Funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation and the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, the plaque marks Isabel’s role as the president of the Franklin County Equal Suffrage League and Old South Church on Main Street as the location of Maine Woman Suffrage’s 27th Annual Convention.

Members of the historical society, locals, historians on Maine women’s suffrage and members of Isabel’s family were present at the unveiling.

Farmington Historical Society President Jane Woodman and Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage author Anne B. Gass held a banner that read “Votes for Women” over the plaque before unveiling it.

Next to them, Farmington Historical Society members Marion “Toosie” Sharoun, Theresa Forster and Jo Josephson were dressed in suffragist garb created for a 2020 celebration of the centennial in Farmington. They wore “votes for women” sashes and held a banner which said “Honoring Isabel Greenwood, Farmington’s Suffragist.”

Suffrage plaque for Isabel Greenwood unveiled in Farmington (2)

From left, Anne B. Gass and Farmington Historical Society President Jane Woodman unveil a plaque honoring Isabel Greenwood’s work as a women’s suffragist during a ceremony at Old South Church in Farmington Thursday, Aug. 18. Next to them are members of the historical society, from left Marion “Toosie” Sharoun, Theresa Forster and Jo Josephson. The plaque is one of around 250 markers across the country honoring suffragists and the fight for women’s right to vote. Attendees of the ceremony say the plaque, which also honors the location of the 1907 annual Maine Suffrage Association Convention, honor Greenwood’s story as a historical figure in her own right, separating her accomplishments from husband Chester Greenwood. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Following the unveiling, attendees returned inside for remarks from Gass and Michaela Carney.

Gass told the audience about the history of Maine’s suffrage movement, her personal relationship to the women’s suffrage movement and a bit more about National Votes for Women Trail.

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The trail has around 250 historical markers across America, which correspond to an online database. Five of those plaques are in Maine: two in Portland and one each in Augusta, Lewiston and Farmington.

Gass said it was also important the plaques honor marginalized voices in the movement as the most well-known suffragists are generally “white, largely affluent people.” As a result, they separately fundraised for extra plaques honoring the black matriarchs of Bangor and Penobscot activist Lucy Nicolar Poolaw, who fought for the voting rights of indigenous people.

“We don’t celebrate women’s history as well as we celebrate men,” Gass told the audience.

She referenced a statistic that just one in 10 outdoor sculpture portraits of historical figures in America are of women, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Women have been right there with men all along the way, but we just don’t celebrate them the way we do our men,” Gass said. “This marker that we just unveiled as part of the Maine Suffrage Centennial Trail is intended to bring some of the suffrage history to life and to make it a part of the centerpiece of our communities.”

The project “to map locations around the country …where some kind of suffrage activity took place” is a part of the National Collaborative for Women’s History, which Gass said “realized … we had done such a poor job of recognizing and celebrating our suffrage history” leading up to the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment.

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Gass described Isabel as “very typical of women who are working on suffrage during her time … [with] family to take care of … running the house with lots of other things.”

Gass added that she has “always admired” Isabel for bringing the “suffrage call” into her community, at county fairs and the like.

Overall, Gass said she hopes to “see hundreds and hundreds of more markers for women all over Maine.”

Following Gass’s speech, there was a presentation on Isabel’s history as suffragist and member of the Farmington community from Michaela Carney, a University of Maine at Farmington graduate studying women’s history and member of the historical society.

“Isabel was a force to be reckoned with. She knew her role as a female and as a mother, never one sacrificing one for the other,” Carney said.

Carney stated that part of Isabel’s work was “attempting to stop the spread of misinformation that the anti-suffragists party was circulating … arguments such as women having emotional instability and intellectual disability … [that women’s suffrage was] a distraction from domestic duties, a threat to the moral order if women join politics, an expensive burden on municipalities and simply women don’t even want to vote.”

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“Isabel crushed these anti-separatist sentiments with every chance she had,” Carney said. “She and her team have worked tirelessly over a decade in the Franklin County area seeking support for the movement.”

Following the ratification of the 19th amendment, Carney said Isabel “continued to fight” and turned her work toward educating and registering new voters.

“Though her work was overshadowed by that of her husband, it is certainly no less important,” Carney said. “History tells us that women go unnoticed when participating in male dominated professions … Even today it is difficult to gain recognition for the work women do.

“The more we discuss the lives of women such as Isabel Greenwood, the more normal we make a nontraditional lifestyle. The women of her generation paved the way for the women in our mother’s generation and now ours.”

Carney asked the audience to “take the time to reflect on the influential work that Isabel Greenwood and the suffragists did, take a moment to understand how you talk to the people around you, how you support them, encourage them and promote them.”

“At the end of the day, the hard work done in the past means nothing if those values are disappearing today,” Carney said.

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Suffrage plaque for Isabel Greenwood unveiled in Farmington (3)

The Farmington Historical Society unveiled a plaque honoring Isabel Greenwood’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement during a ceremony at Old South Church in Farmington Thursday, Aug. 18. Pictured, historical society member Michaela Carney presents on Greenwood’s involvement in the fight for women’s right to vote. Carney said the plaque is an important reminder of the ongoing fight for human rights amid a changing political climate. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Carney said in an interview following her speech that she considers this plaque and Isabel’s work especially relevant amid the changing landscape of American politics.

“Politicians can try and delete history if they want to, as they’ve done, but you can’t forget about history. History repeats itself, it’s always there … you always have yesterday,” she said. “This plaque is a reminder that we’re still going forward, even if you think we’re going backward, or we’re stalling. We’re not stalling, we’re going to continue to work.”

Forster, the new Farmington Historical Society secretary, echoed those beliefs.

“We may be on a slippery slope [at this moment in history]. And I think it’s important to realize the fight that came before, we can’t let it go to waste,” Forster said. “People died, I think it’s important we [fight to] keep the rights we have.”

Alongside its relevance, Forster, Carney and historical society member Claudia Bell said the unveiling ceremony was a great moment to recognize Isabel as a historical figure separate from Chester.

“I think it’s a very important piece of history because women have been overlooked in history as a general rule,” Forster said. “I think it’s about time we got noticed.”

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“We always think about Chester,” Bell said. “Certainly Chester was important to the town’s history, but I think that Isabel, in her own way and in her efforts to bring the right to vote to women is certainly something the town can be proud of.”

Patricia Overall, a member of the historical society, said she hopes tourists and locals alike “will stop and take notice of Farmington’s stop on the National Votes for Women trail.”

Four great-grandchildren of Chester and Isabel were also present at the ceremony. They said though they were all young when she died, they remember and were told of Isabel’s passion and principles.

“She was a very tiny woman, but as you could tell, her spirit and her determination were very large,” Sandy Greenwood Thomas said. “She ruled the roost. She was very strong in her home … but also was very involved in the community.”

The Greenwood great-grandchildren said history is incredibly important to the Greenwood family and they were proud to contribute family documents to the historical society’s collection of the local suffrage movement.

“The Greenwoods save everything,” Greenwood Thomas said.

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Deborah Greenwood Chandler said there’s “a lot of family history with a lot of strong people so you follow that example, it’s expected of you.”

“Believe in something and go for it,” Greenwood Thomas said.

Kim Greenwood Beaulieu said it’s “really nice to have something for Isabel because she … had strong beliefs and worked hard to better people’s lives.”

Simply put, “Great grammy finally gets bragging rights,” great-grandson Ken Clinton Franz said.

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chester greenwood, Farmington Historical Society, Farmington Maine, Franklin County Maine, Franklin Journal, Isabel Greenwood, Maine Suffrage Centennial, women's rights

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