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– Maine Historical Society celebrates 200 years with series of events

The Maine Historical Society campus on Congress Street in Portland, as it appeared ca. 1908. Wadsworth-Longfellow House can be seen in the center. Courtesy photo from Maine Historical Society

The Maine Historical Society is entering its third century of service to the people of Maine and commemorating its 200th birthday. 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.

Elizabeth Ring, (ca. 1965) Teacher, historian, author and the first woman elected to MHS governing board in 1948. Courtesy photo from Maine Historical Society

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.

Gov. William King, (ca. 1865) King (1768-1852) was Maine’s first governor. Courtesy photo from Maine Historical Society

Today, MHS is a major and vibrant leader in Maine history. In recent years, we have focused on building a modern organization that 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 include “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” have provided the community with context, information, and a place to explore crucial contemporary issues.

Central to our 200th birthday is the two-part “Northern Threads: Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society.” This beautiful 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.

Mar 16–Jul 30: Part I Northern Threads

Throughout 2022: Companion historic clothing mini-exhibits will rotate in our other Showcase and Shettleworth galleries, and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.

Mar 16–May 21: Maine Historical Society in Pictures: exploring our first 200 years. In our Shettleworth Gallery, explore MHS’ five locations over two centuries through paintings, photographs, and stories of pivotal MHS leaders.

Aug 12–Dec 31: Part II Northern Threads.

Mar 22: Unpacking the Past: Fashions from the Maine Historical Society Collection. With textile/clothing historian Jacqueline Field, 6-7pm.

Apr 13: Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History. Book talk, Richard Thompson Ford, 7-8 pm.

Apr 26: American Republics: A Continental History of the United States, 1783-1850. With Alan Taylor, 7-8 p.m.

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. www.mainehistorymaker.org.

Historian William D. Barry will publish a first installment of MHS’ history in the journal Maine History this summer. Explore more MHS History at mainehistory.org/mhs200/timeline.shtml and mainememory.net/exhibits/mhsinpictures.

Registration is required to attend any exhibitions, programs, or events. Please visit mainehistory.org for details on exhibit admission fees, timed-ticketing, scheduling your gallery visit, to check program updates, MHS membership, and latest COVID policies. Exhibit access for MHS members is free; non-member adults $10; children (6-17) $5, and under 6, free. Join before you book!

Unless otherwise noted, Zoom programs are free.

Located on 489 Congress St., Portland, 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. Celebrate with us! Visit www.mainehistory.org/mhs200 for events, public programs, and news. For more information, visit www.mainehistory.org or call 207-774-1822.


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