(1909-1993) was a trail blazing Maine woman and early political leader. First, Cormier was a woman in politics when that itself was an anomaly, serving six terms in the Maine House of Representatives between 1946 and 1960. She did not stop there though. Additionally, she was a Democrat in a time when Republicans ruled, and, in 1958, in her final term she broke new ground even more when she was elected to the position of House Minority Leader and became the first woman in Maine to hold a leadership position in the State Legislature.
One of the primary reasons Cormier is remembered today is the 1960 U.S. Senate race, a race she actually lost. Just in running she broke new ground, and did so in concert with her sister pioneering Maine woman politician and incumbent, Republican Margaret Chase Smith. Their race was of high historical significance because it was the first time in the U.S. that two women competed for such a position. In a clear expression of the level of historical significance held by Americans about the woman-against-woman race was Time Magazine’s September 5, 1960 issue, when portraits of Cormier and Smith graced its cover.
Cormier was born in Rumford just four years before the birth, also in Rumford, of one of Maine’s most respected politicians, Senator Edmund Muskie. He did not hesitate to express Cormier’s significance when he said of her at her death, “Her character and wisdom contributed mightily to the emergence of our Democratic party.”
Cormier graduated from St. Stephens High School in her home town and earned a B.A. from the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey in 1936. A fluent French speaker, Cormier returned to Rumford and eventually headed the modern language department at her high school alma mater. In 1940 she completed her education with an M.A. from Columbia University.
Cormier first made her move into politics in 1943 while she was still teaching high school, when she became a part-time legislator. In 1945, she gave up teaching for good and opened a stationery and office supply store called Cormier’s on Upper Congress Street in Rumford. The store was a favorite of local businesses and its success allowed Cormier to focus increasingly on politics. The fact that she left teaching, however, did not mean that she no longer cared about the cause of education, rather, legislation regarding education became one of her primary focuses. Her contributions were many and included service on the legislative Committee on Education.
Cormier was considered to be a politician with an independent mind. She related well to the working people of Maine, aided by the significant skill of unique appeal to many Mainers, of the ability to speak fluent French, a language that even today continues to come most easily to some Mainers. Cormier was also known as pro-labor. In the 1960 race against Smith, she gained labor’s support, allowing her to outspend Smith in the race by more than three times.
Despite the fact that Smith prevailed, the 1960 Senate race was far from a complete loss to Cormier. In fact, it led to the position she would hold for the last 15 years of the many she spent in service to her State. Because the Democrats did succeed in winning back the White House that year, President John F. Kennedy appointed her to the position of Portland Regional Customs Collector, the person in charge of the U.S. Customs House in Maine.
Lucia Cormier died at the age of 83 in Daytona Beach, Florida on January 26, 1993.
Harkavy, Jerry, “Lucia Cormier: Customs director is on fourth career in Portland,” Kennebec Journal. June 30, 1973.
Mills, Paul H. “Mr. Vacationland and Why We Can’t Forget the Lady from Rumford,” Lewiston Sun Journal. September 3, 2000.
Rawson, Davis, “She was one feisty female Democrat,” Morning Sentinel. January 29, 1993.
Contributed by Hope Cruser, Edgecomb, Maine, 2008.