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!

Stunning MHS Landmark Historic Clothing Exhibition Brings Maine History to Life

NORTHERN THREADS: Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society will be on exhibit March 16 to December 31, 2022 at the MHS gallery, 489 Congress Street in Portland.

Are you ready to encounter amazing Maine history up close and personal? Did you know 19th century Maine citizens pursued fashion trends on par with Boston, London, and New York? Have you wondered how the fur trade affected wildlife and the environment? What did people wear to a ball that honored Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette?

Maine Historical Society (MHS) brings historic clothing, fashion trends, and their backstories to the modern audience. The much-anticipated Northern Threads shares Maine history in an exciting, multifaceted exhibition. Come for the clothes, stay for the history!

MHS houses one of the largest and most varied collections of historic clothing in the state. Central to MHS’ 200th anniversary, Northern Threads considers how the clothes Maine people wore reveals the history of our state. This two-part exhibition will explore key themes such as fabric production and accessibility, societal expectations, the fur trade’s devastating impact on Maine’s wildlife and environment, Indigenous communities, textile working conditions, and women’s independence. Northern Threads illuminates history through never-before-exhibited pieces in the MHS permanent collection, and highlights unprecedented online public access on the Maine Memory Network.

Ideally, visitors will attend both installations to be immersed in remarkable vignettes (or scenes) based on different themes. Vignettes feature beautifully dressed, individually crafted mannequins and cased artifacts, emphasizing specific time periods, trends, fibers, themes, and communities or individuals that contextualize the garments into distinct aspects of Maine and American history.

Part I – Clothing circa 1780-1889: Displayed March 16 to July 30, vignettes include the Gigot Sleeve; Civil War Era Fashions; Mourning Attire and Practices; Fabric’s Adaptive Re-Use; the Bustle Deconstructed; Outerwear; and Silhouettes in Sequence.

Part II – Clothing circa 1890-1980: Displayed August 12 to December 31, vignettes include Maine’s Gilded Age; 1920s-1930s Fashions; Women at Work; Chemistry and Fashion; Bridal and Formalwear; Swimwear; Outerwear; and Silhouettes in Sequence.

Virtual Access: A 3-D virtual tour and detailed digital exhibit will increase public access 24/7 for those unable to visit the gallery in person, or for guests seeking to explore more aspects of the MHS Historic Clothing, Costume and Dress Collection portal. Online access is available through our award-winning Maine Memory Network digital history platform.

Companion Exhibits: Rotating mini-exhibits in our galleries throughout the year will feature: Parisian fashion drawings from the Mildred Burrage collection, circa 1920; Fashion Illustrations from the John Martin Journals; Maine Graphic Tees; and Wadsworth-Longfellow family historic clothing, 1780-1825 in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House this summer.

Public Programs: Exciting virtual public and educational programming are in the works, including a March 22nd talk on MHS’ historic clothing collection with textile/dress historian, and Northern Threads consulting curator, Jacqueline Field; and an April 13th talk with Richard Thompson Ford on Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History. Visit our programs and events page often for all the latest.

Plan Your Visit to the Two-Part Northern Threads Exhibition: Admission is by a 90-minute ticketing system. Access for MHS members is free; non-member adults $10; children (6-17) $5, and under 6, free. Join before you book! Check our website for benefits of MHS membership – including a limited time special 35 for 35 for new members 35 and younger.

Northern Threads is made possible by dedicated staff, contributors, partners, and donors, including:

BHA Foundation Fund

Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust

Elsie A. Brown Fund, Inc.

The Coby Foundation for Textiles, Ltd.

The Davis Family Foundation

Down East Magazine (Media Sponsor)

Institute of Museum & Library Services

William Sloane Jelin Foundation

The Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust

Karen and Kirk Pelletier

Deborah S. Reed

The Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Foundation

Doris S. Stockly

Exhibition: The Advent of Green Acre, A Bahá’í Center of Learning

Maine Memory Network is Maine’s online digital museum, administered by the Maine Historical Society with over 270 Contributing Partner institutions. One of the first Maine Memory Network Contributing Partners, The Eliot Bahá’í Archives has 57 items and 1 exhibit featured online.

The Advent of Green Acre, A Bahá’í Center of Learning: Selections from the Eliot Bahá’í Archives is a new MHS exhibition from July 7 to October 2, 2021. Featured in the Shettleworth Gallery, the onsite exhibit highlights these collections that preserve the fascinating history relating to Green Acre, which continues operating today in Eliot, Maine.

Swami Ramanathan, Myron Phelps and Countess Canavarro at Green Acre, circa 1900. Collections of the Eliot Bahá’í Archives, MMN #16593.

In 1894, Sarah Jane Farmer established the Green Acre conferences. Lecturers discussed peace, world religions, health, freedom, and social justice topics. In a life-changing experience, she traveled to Palestine in 1900 to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, imprisoned leader of the Bahá’í Faith. She subsequently converted to the religion and infused the conferences with Bahá’í teachings, transforming Green Acre into a Bahá’í Center of Learning.

In addition to the Shettleworth Gallery installation, viewers can access an online component on Maine Memory Network. Learn more about Green Acre on their website.

Also on exhibit in the MHS main Gallery through December 31, 2021, is Begin Again: reckoning with intolerance in Maine which explores deep historical roots of contemporary social justice issues in the state.

Hours: Wednesday–Saturday, 10AM – 4PM through advance ticketing. Walk-ins, via the MHS Museum Store, are subject to availability.

Cost: Free Adult/Youth MHS members, children under six; $10 per Adult non-member.