Maine Historical Society Celebrates 200 Years

Celebrate with us! Visit for updated events and news.

It’s not every day an organization reaches its 200th birthday, let alone is entering its third century of service to the people of Maine. Yet, Maine Historical Society (MHS) is doing just that! On February 5, 1822, MHS was established as the third state historical society in the United States – two years after Maine became a state. Its founders consisted of civic leaders from across Maine, including first Governor William King and others who also spearheaded separation from Massachusetts.

Key to gaining Maine statehood in 1822, William King of Bath was Maine’s first governor. James Phinney Baxter, six-term mayor of Portland, was president of MHS from 1890-1921.

MHS’ mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. Our vast collections provide critical insights into the political, socio-economic, and environmental dynamics of Maine. They include European settlement, interactions with Indigenous peoples, Maine’s role in the slave economy, land use, and items from early families, businesses, and governmental leaders. Whereas for much of its early life MHS could be perceived as an exclusionary and colonial-focused organization, over time, and especially since the 1960s, the world and MHS have markedly changed.

The Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Keith’s Theater, Congress Street, Portland, ca. 1908. Today, the MHS Library is next to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, boyhood home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Today, MHS is a major and vibrant thought leader in Maine history. In recent years, we have focused on building a modern organization that nimbly addresses ever-changing community needs. A main emphasis has been on developing programming and content that explores how history shapes Maine today, centering on the needs, interests, and passions of contemporary Mainers.

Our collaborative exhibitions and programs strive to recognize, study, recover, and amplify diverse voices and experiences of working people, Indigenous Nations, Black communities, ethnic minorities, women, and many others whose perspectives and histories had largely been ignored. Recent exhibits – 400 Years of New Mainers; Making Paper, Making Maine; Holding Up the Sky: Wabanaki People, Culture, History & Art; State of Mind: Becoming Maine; and Begin Again: reckoning with intolerance in Maine – provided the community with context, information, and a place to explore crucial contemporary issues.

Located in Portland’s cultural arts district, MHS is comprised of our Museum Gallery, Brown Research Library, Museum Store, world-famous Wadsworth-Longfellow House, and award-winning digital history platform, Maine Memory Network. Rooted in research, scholarship, and collections, we continually expand greater access to Maine history resources for all Maine people through these pathways.


Central to our 200th birthday is the two-part Northern Threads: Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society. This beautiful, two-part exhibition in our main gallery brings historic clothing to life, illustrates key themes in Maine history, and explores the impact of fashion on Maine’s society, economy, and environment.

  • May 5: Maine History Maker Award: Honors civic leaders Severin Beliveau and Harold Pachios. This in-person event at USM’s Hannaford Hall also celebrates the profound contribution of immigrant communities to Maine’s special sense of place.

REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED to attend ANY exhibitions, programs, or events, including free Zoom programs. Please visit for details on exhibit admission fees, timed-ticketing, scheduling your gallery visit, and to check program updates. Exhibit access for MHS members is free; non-member adults $10; children (6-17) $5, and under 6, free. Join before you schedule your visit!

5.7.2015 | Civil War Historian David Blight Wows the Crowd

More than 100 people filled Rines Auditorium at Portland Public Library on May 7 to hear celebrated Civil War historian and Yale professor David Blight speak about the legacy of the Civil War. Blight is the author of numerous books and articles on the war including Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, which won eight awards. The talk served as the “endnote” to the three-year, NEH-funded Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War project that MHS collaborated on with Maine Humanities Council.

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A captivating speaker with a wide-ranging intellect, Blight spoke about the many reasons the Civil War still holds sway in our national memory. These included our many periods of “racial reckoning” in this country (including the one we’re in now), the Civil War as the beginning of the modern era and so-called “big government,” and societal concepts of loss and death.

Local & Legendary team members, including ten students from Spruce Mountain High School in Jay, got the chance to speak to Professor Blight one-on-one prior to the talk.

Local History Local Schools: Small School

On Thursday, March 5, Small School from South Portland visited our campus to celebrate the completion of their Local History Local Schools study. Fourth grade students from Mr. Stoner’s and Ms. Cloutier’s classes gave presentations and shared their work with fellow classmates, parents, and MHS staff. Their projects will continue to be on display in the Student Gallery, we invite you to come check them out!

Enjoy this slideshow of images from the event:

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