(1891-1941) On January 3, 1923, Dora Bradbury Pinkham took her seat in the Maine House of Representatives as the first woman elected to the Legislature in Maine. Pinkham represented Fort Kent and Wallagrass Plantation (now the Town of Wallagrass). She was the only woman elected out of the nine women from across the state who ran for the Maine legislature in 1922. Representative Pinkham, a Republican, was just 31 years old, and had defeated William J. Audibert, a two-term Democrat from that district.
Dora Bradbury was born September 27, 1891 in New Limerick the daughter of Lester and Dora (Small) Bradbury. The Bradbury family moved to Fort Kent in 1892, where Dora attended grade school. She attended high school in Houlton (Fort Kent had no high school), graduating in 1908, and went on to graduate from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1913. Dora earned a Master’s Degree in political science from Columbia University (New York, NY) in 1914.
Following her education, she worked for the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., taught at the Madawaska Training School, worked as a bookkeeper for a Fort Kent bank, and served as an investigator and special agent for the U. S. Children’s Bureau. In 1917, Dora Bradbury married Niles Pinkham, a Fort Kent businessman, and settled back into her hometown community where she was active in civic and community work.
Pinkham’s first year in the Maine legislature was nothing short of spectacular. She served on the Joint Committee for Education, the Joint Committee for Public Health, the Maine Publicity Committee, and on a number of ad hoc committees. The legislation she sponsored in her first term included 1) support for an international bridge between Fort Kent and the Village of Clair, St. Francis, New Brunswick; 2) funds to restore the historic blockhouse at Fort Kent; 3) new regulation for optometry; 4) a change in the time to elect school superintendents; 5) support for a State of Maine building at the Eastern Agricultural and Industrial Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts; and, 6) legislation for Maine to participate in the federal program established by the 1921 Sheppard Towner Act concerning maternal and child welfare and health.
All Pinkham’s 1923 legislation passed, except for the bill to have Maine participate in federal Sheppard-Towner program. It was the first federally funded welfare program, and was directed primarily at women and children funding health clinics, health education, and midwife training.
Two of her bills – the Maine State Building and the Sheppard-Towner program – were vetoed by Governor Percival P. Baxter, but Pinkham, with her considerable oratorical skills, was able to convince the House to override Baxter’s vetoes. The Senate concurred only on the issue of the Maine State Building, so Maine’s participation in the Shepard Towner Act (see citation below) went down to narrow defeat in 1923. However, funding for similar small program financed only with state money passed.
Pinkham lost her 1924 bid for re-election to the House to the man she had previously defeated, but she returned in 1926 to win a slot in the 83rd Legislature as a Senator from Aroostook County (one of three). Pinkham and Katherine C. Allen of Hampden (Penobscot County) shared the honor of being the first women elected to the Maine Senate. Pinkham was re-elected in 1928 to serve a second term in the Maine Senate.
During her Senate career, Pinkham continued to serve on the Joint Standing Committees on Education and Public Health, holding the chair of both committees for the 84th Session. Pinkham served twice on the Senate Committee on Bills in Second Reading, on the Joint Standing Committees on State Prisons and Interior Waters, and on numerous special and ad hoc committees, including critical conference committees to iron out differences between the House and Senate. Legislation she sponsored during her time in the Maine Senate included support for highways and bridges, regulations on financial businesses, funding for education and health facilities, child welfare, teachers’ pensions, support for veterans and their dependents, and reimbursement to communities for caring for the indigent.
After leaving elected office, Pinkham served for a time as special secretary to Governor William T. Gardiner to support his effort to reorganize state government. Also, she was a member of a state Advisory Council on Health and Welfare from 1932 to 1935.
Pinkham was active in Republican politics, serving on her Town Republican Committee for many years and as an Aroostook County representative to the State Republican Committee for five years. She was an American Red Cross volunteer, beginning this service in 1917. Pinkham organized the first Fort Kent Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW) in 1930, serving as its first president, and she was active in the state BPW, serving as the chair of their Legislation and International Relations committees.
Pinkham died November 19, 1941, a few months after her 50th birthday. She left a legacy of caring commitment to improve the lives of the people in her home district and in the state of Maine. Her concerns ranged from those generally attributed to women – health, education, and social welfare – but also included issues of business and banking practices, trade and promoting Maine products, international trade, and public safety. She was an articulate and effective legislator who dedicated her life to public service. Maine could not have had a more impressive first woman state legislator.
Bangor Daily News, September 10, 1924.
Dora Bradbury files (covering 1913-1942), Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, Sootj Hadley, Massachusetts.
“First Woman Solon Ends First Week As Maine Lawmaker,” Kennebec Daily Journal, January 6, 1923.
Legislative Records of the Eighty-First, Eighty-Third, and Eighty-Fourth Legislatures of the State of Maine.
Moehling, Carolyn M. and Melissa A. Thompson. “The Political Economy of Saving Mothers and Babies: The Politics of State Participation in the Sheppard-Towner Program.” http://www.econ.yale.edu/seminars/echist/eh09/moehling-0908.pdf (accessed March 14, 2012) [NOTE: Both associated with NBER, the National business Research Council]
“Peacock Sees Big Republican Victory,” Bangor Daily News, September 9, 1922.