Falmouth lecture to highlight Mainer's contribution to women's suffrage

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FALMOUTH — Florence Brooks Whitehouse played a key role in the women’s suffrage movement of the mid-1900s, but the story behind her struggle for the right to vote was lost until Whitehouse’s great-granddaughter resurrected her legacy.

Author Anne B. Gass, of Gray, first published her book “Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage” several years ago.

Now the Falmouth Memorial Library and the Falmouth Historical Society will celebrate Women’s History Month with a lecture by Gass. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at Lunt Auditorium.

It took Gass about 15 years to fully research and write her book, which is available online and at local bookstores.

“I decided to write (it) when I realized that Florence had been written out of Maine suffrage history because her more conservative peers thought she was too radical,” Gass said.

“However, I had done enough research to know that she was a key leader in the final years of the suffrage campaign (and) it made me mad (her contribution) had been ignored. So, I wrote the book.”

Gass wants her readers to understand “how long and hard women had to fight to get the right to vote and the part that Florence played in that.”

Gass first learned about her great-grandmother from an aunt, who kept saying that Whitehouse had done “some amazing things and she ought not to be forgotten.”

But, it wasn’t until much later in life that Gass took the time to review Whitehouse’s papers, which now belong to the Maine Historical Society.

“My life has been so enriched by the research I’ve done over the last 15-plus years,” she said. “I’ve learned an enormous amount of U.S., Maine and women’s history, have met many wonderful people and have had wonderful experiences.”

Whitehouse, who was born in Augusta and lived most of her life in Portland, was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008. The organization’s website at uma.edu/community/maine-womens-hall-of-fame/ provides a fairly thorough profile of her life and work.

When Gass finally got a chance to look through Whitehouse’s treasure trove of papers, she “was hooked right away. I knew very little about her when I was growing up (because) the family had forgotten how amazing she was.”

“Voting Down the Rose,” focuses on the years between 1913 and 1920, when Whitehouse was most active in the suffrage movement, Gass said. The book’s title is taken from a poem that Whitehouse wrote in 1915.

“The rose was the symbol of the anti-suffragists, while the jonquil was the symbol for the pro-suffrage forces,” Gass said.

“It frustrated me that I didn’t learn about (my great-grandmother) until I was in my 40s,” said Gass. “When I first met Florence through the research I did, I felt this shock of recognition: So, this is where I came from.”

“It’s meant a great deal to me to get to know Florence, and to restore her to her rightful place in history.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Florence Brooks Whitehouse was a key player in the women’s suffrage movement of the mid-1900s. Her contributions are celebrated in a book written by her great-granddaughter.