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Florence Brooks Whitehouse

Florence Brooks Whitehouse

Florence Brooks was born October 29, 1869, into a prosperous and socially prominent family in Augusta, Maine. She was educated in the Augusta public schools and at St. Catherine's Hall, a private boarding school, and later spent several winters studying art, drawing, music, and languages in Boston. She loved travel, and in 1892-1893 took an extended trip abroad. Her travels took her to Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Africa, and the Holy Land, as well as to the art centers of Syria and Egypt.

She returned to Maine and married Robert Treat Whitehouse, a young lawyer who was also from Augusta, and the couple moved to Portland. Over the next several years they had three sons, but Florence still found time to write two novels, The God of Things and The Effendi, both romances set in the Middle East. For her first novel, she also produced a number of very fine illustrations; the second, written when she was confined to bed rest during her third pregnancy, was illustrated by the well-known artist I.H. Caliga. She was the author of many short stories, and with her husband co-wrote, directed, and acted in several plays.

Around 1913 Florence got interested in the issue of woman's suffrage, and soon became active in every possible suffrage league she was able to join. In 1915 she founded the Maine branch of the Congressional Union (later the National Women's Party), and served as its chairman until suffrage was won, five years later. This earned her much local notoriety because of the "militant" tactics employed by the Congressional Union organizers. Most of Florence's Maine suffrage colleagues were shocked and appalled when Congressional Union suffragists picketed the White House and Congress, and campaigned against the Democrats (then the party in power) for failing to pass an amendment to the federal constitution enfranchising women. They also disrupted Congressional hearings, and burned President Wilson's speeches in the park across the street from the White House. Florence herself picketed President Wilson, both in Chicago and later at the White House, and traveled to Wyoming in 1916 to help organize the women there (who already had the vote) to oppose Wilson because "He kept Us Out of Suffrage."

Florence's skills as a writer, a public speaker, and an organizer were unequalled in Maine's suffrage movement, and she was a key figure in the last six years of the struggle. She worked closely with national suffrage leaders, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul, especially during pivotal periods when the nation looked to Maine for breakthroughs in the battle. Following enactment of the 19th Amendment enfranchising women, she went on to serve with the Portland Chamber of Commerce and campaigned for the League of Nations and International peace and disarmament, among many other activities. It is unfortunate that her radical reputation kept her from getting more than a brief mention in the scant histories that have been written about Maine's suffrage history; she deserves much more than that. Still, while suffrage activities occupied six years of Florence's life, they were just one aspect of an accomplished and varied career. She was a remarkable woman, with a fierce love of justice, a deep commitment to woman's rights, and an unshakable loyalty to her beloved state of Maine.

1916 Photograph

Inducted March, 2008