Statement on the Killing of George Floyd

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

Maine Historical Society is deeply disturbed by this tragic moment in our history. We are horrified and fed up by George Floyd’s death, and those of countless other people of color. How can this happen again and again and again?

History will play a critical role in instituting the transformative social change that is required.

Together, we need:

  • to understand how we got to this moment—our shared history and the roles we each play in this story.
  • to be fearless in confronting the past—and to recognize how it shapes where we are today.
  • to start by truly acknowledging the problem—hundreds of years of institutionalized racism, ongoing economic inequality, and an embarrassingly broken political culture.

The materials that Maine Historical Society and historical organizations throughout Maine collect, preserve, and share will be an invaluable resource during this time.

Our collections reveal that Maine is part of the story that created structures of inequality. Maine, and the land that Maine Historical Society occupies, was the first region in North America where a permanent European settlement was founded. Since that time, the foundations of white privilege have created a system built on colonialism, racism, and a slave economy that helped fuel Maine’s hallmark industries like shipbuilding, trade, and manufacturing.

Our collections also show Mainers’ resilience, leadership, and ability to change the world.

Together, we have to unpack the underlying issues, to develop a plan that will lead to transformative change, and to take the first next steps.

We pledge MHS as a partner in helping lead this process, and to providing information, context, and perspective as our community confronts these issues.

Gladys Doten Chapman: A Life Well Lived

By Tessa Surette, MHS Volunteer

Gladys Chapman, circa 1907

I recently processed the Chapman-Doten family collection which documents the lives of a Portland family during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Chapmans — Philip Sr. (1884-1949), his wife Gladys (1886-1980) and their children Virginia (1910-2011), Marion (1913-1965) and Philip Jr. (1917-2001) — lived on Spring Street. Their lives are preserved through correspondence and numerous photographs.

While all five family members are represented in the collection, it is Gladys who emerges as its star. She lived a long and meaningful life as a wife, mother, suffragette, poet and active Portland citizen, and her papers are a valuable addition to the Maine Historical Society.

Gladys (3rd row from the top, 1st from the left) and her future husband Philip F. Chapman, Sr. (to her immediate left) with “The Crowd” on December 30, 1905

Gladys Doten Chapman was born in Maine to Roswell and Clara (Stevens) Doten. She attended Waynflete School and later graduated from Portland High School in 1902. She went on to Wellesley College, graduating in 1907. The decade following her graduation was a busy one. She married Philip F. Chapman Sr. in 1909, had three children, and dedicated herself to the fight for women’s suffrage. She played a prominent role in the Maine Suffrage League and was an original member of the Portland League of Women Voters.

Gladys with baby Virginia, circa 1910
The three Chapman siblings, circa 1917.
(L to R) Virginia, Philip Jr., and Marion outside their house at 375 Spring Street

In addition to politics, Gladys was involved in a wide array of organizations and hobbies. She wrote poetry throughout her life and some of her poems are preserved in this collection. During the 1930s, she wrote book reviews for the Portland Evening News. She was president of the YWCA, the first secretary of the Portland Players, and a longtime member of the Portland College Club. She was also involved in Greater Portland Landmarks, the Wellesley College Alumnae Association and the Portland Museum of Art.

Gladys, circa 1929

While Gladys’s resume is impressive, it doesn’t tell the whole story. A list of accomplishments can illustrate a person’s interests, values and intellect, but not their personality. That is why the correspondence in this collection is such a treasure. During the 1930s and 1940s, Gladys wrote detailed letters to her daughter Virginia, regaling her with anecdotes and colorful commentary about her daily life. Here are a few examples:

In a letter from January 1937, she speaks of Philip Jr.’s attempt to fix their antique Ford.

“He spent about all of three solid days working on the antique Ford… When it finally started, it sounded like the bombardment of Madrid. I got up and looked out the window to see who [was] shooting machine guns, never suspecting it was coming from my own garage.”

Philip Chapman Jr. and his sister Marion, Dec. 28, 1944

In another letter from April 1937, she describes a shopping excursion with daughter Marion (nicknamed Emmy).

“Did she tell you how narrowly we escaped bringing a monkey home with us? If she had had the money I couldn’t have stopped her; but she had only ten dollars and I flatly refused to lend her the rest. It wasn’t like Stella; it was one of the kind with a greenish tinge to its coat and a hairless rear—you know. Also a bat tail, the kind that is the same size all the way down and stops suddenly and bluntly.”

Later in the same letter she mentions her work as a book reviewer and Emmy’s continued pursuit of a monkey.

“There is a pile of books waiting for me; I can’t bear to face the fiction ones… Emmy has been working by the hour clipping and pasting the last month’s reviews into my own book, to bring that up to date. I told her she was a fool if she didn’t take advantage of a chance to kill several birds with one stone and write my publishers’ letters for me and get secretarial practice and earn cold cash at the same time. I am afraid the desire to accumulate the price of a monkey is the driving motive.”

In another letter from September 1939, Gladys describes how she and Marion, who was recovering from a head cold, were inconvenienced by unexpected guests.

“This morning when we were looking our worst Joy and Mrs. Krahmer arrived. One of the disadvantages of being on the ground floor is that it is harder to refuse to see people. And since they had seen her before and she was undeniably better, it seemed impossible not to ask them in. Marian didn’t want to talk, so she pretended that she couldn’t and just whispered, hoping they would go soon. Then this afternoon… in drove Peter Lallemant, the attractive young man in the Casco Bay Timber… Of course having told the German ladies this morning that she could not speak aloud, she had to keep up the same fiction with him, and while it was poetic justice, it was a good deal of a strain whispering for nearly two hours.”

Virginia and Gladys, January 1971

The Chapman-Doten family collection (Coll. 4113), now available for research, contains correspondence, numerous photographs, book reviews, illustrations, newspaper clippings and Gladys’ English assignments from Wellesley College.

The Sanctity of Archives

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

You may have heard about a controversy that has emerged this week surrounding the National Archives and Records Administration: NARA, which refers to itself as the “country’s record keeper,” has been taken to task for altering historic images used to promote its exhibit celebrating the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement. Images of the 2017 Women’s March were blurred to obscure references to “Trump” and female anatomy, drawing criticism from historians, the museum field, and many others (including those who participated in the March).

You can read about the controversy in this New York Times article.

History is messy and complex (and wonderful and an incredibly important resource). This controversy strikes a chord: it raises questions about how institutions like Maine Historical Society go about our work at a time when the concepts of “facts, ” “knowledge,” and “truth” are under siege.

At MHS, our mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. Central to our work is caring for and providing access to documents and other historical items that serve as the foundation of the historical record. We strive to provide broad access to our collections and work closely with partners throughout the state to develop exhibits, public programs, publications, and online resources that provide context for issues that Mainers are focused on today.

A core tenet articulated in our strategic plan states that MHS is “committed to rigorous scholarship, freedom of inquiry, confronting all aspects of the historical record, and advocates the use of history to support planning for the future.” We take this very seriously.

This means that we are meticulous in how we approach, think about, and present the historical record: we do not alter images, manipulate them for effect, sanitize them, or attempt to put aspects of Maine’s story in a more favorable light.

Our staff engages in constant discussion internally and with partners throughout Maine to identify topics of interest and relevance to the community, to include diverse perspectives, and to present multiple viewpoints.

There are inherent biases in all history—based on what records survive, what materials have been valued and collected, the era in which the history is written, and the background and perspective of the historian and institution. We work hard to identify, acknowledge, and address those biases.

I could cite many examples of MHS’s work in recent years that reflect these commitments: exhibitions on immigration in Maine, the paper industry, and Maine’s food culture and economy.

Our current exhibition, Holding Up the Sky, offers a case in point. As the State of Maine commemorates its Bicentennial this year, we felt that it was essential to first place 200 years of Statehood into the context of 13,000 years of Maine history. The exhibition explores the experience and leadership of the Wabanaki, Maine’s first people, who have lived here and been stewards of the place we now know as Maine for thousands of years.

Holding Up The Sky logo 1 NEW

The exhibit revisits historic documents, like treaties, from the Wabanaki perspective and acknowledges that early Maine leaders, like the Longfellow family (near and dear to MHS), acted in deeply disturbing ways (e.g. by offering scalping bounties). The story is complex, tragic, moving, inspiring, and many other things. It is a story that people who care about Maine need to know, good and bad. Information, awareness, and open dialog is the foundation for moving forward together on this and every other topic of contemporary interest and concern.

I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Holding Up the Sky before it closes on February 1.

Exhibitions are one important way for the public to encounter and explore history. Each story, fact, object, label, panel, and graphic plays a role in establishing knowledge, understanding, and trust. It is essential that each is presented with honesty, accuracy, and transparency.

We are fortunate: Maine has an incredible historical community. Scholars, professors, graduate students, and local historians are dedicated to these principles, as are museums, archives, local historical societies, libraries, and many other organizations throughout the state.

These individuals and institutions are an invaluable resource and source of information. You can be confident in their vigilance and commitment to providing information that supports civic dialog.

We deeply appreciate the support of MHS members and donors who make this work possible.