Salt ’n Spar

Celebrating Wiscasset women

Tue, 03/30/2021 - 8:00am

    Let’s celebrate the waning days of “Women's History Month” to recognize a few Wiscasset ladies for making our community a better place to raise children and call home sweet home.

    One that comes to mind is Francis Florence Plumstead who taught multiple generations of Wiscasset schoolchildren from the 1920s to the 1950s. Miss Plumstead began her Wiscasset teaching career at a one-room school house on Lowelltown Road and later taught at the Red Brick Schoolhouse on Warren Street, now home now to the Maine Art Gallery. Those sharing memories of Miss Plumstead tell me she didn’t put up with any tomfoolery in her classroom, and was fondly called the “best teacher Wiscasset ever had.”

    Another woman who comes to mind is Marion Smith Lowndes who resided on High Street. As a young woman, she experienced the adventure of a lifetime sailing to the Arctic as part of the 1926 expedition led by Commander Donald Baxter MacMillan. It was MacMillan’s fourth trip to the Arctic aboard the schooner Bowdoin, named for his alma mater, Bowdoin College. Accompanying the Bowdoin for this expedition was the schooner Sachem III. Marion Smith shipped aboard Sachem III along with Mary Metcalf, the daughter of MacMillan’s friend, Charles Sewall, a botanist who also called Wiscasset home. The goal of the three-month expedition was to collect animal, bird, fish and geological specimens for scientific study. MacMillan also wanted to explore the Norse ruins in South Greenland and Labrador.

    Lowndes was the great granddaughter of Samuel Emerson Smith, Maine’s 10th governor. She was active in many community organizations including the Wiscasset Female Charitable Society and the town’s Beautification Committee. I remember her best for her wonderful smile and kindness. Mrs. Lowndes hosted the Wiscasset Female Charitable Society’s 175th anniversary at the Smith House. Her daughter Susan Lowndes Blagden, who continues to serve as moderator at Wiscasset town meetings, hosted the group’s 200th anniversary held in 2005; that gathering, too, was at the Smith House.

    Fanny S. Chase, author of “Wiscasset in Pownalborough,” certainly deserves remembering, having painstakingly researched and written the definitive history of Maine’s Prettiest Village. The book was published in 1941. I’ve frequently referenced Mrs. Chase in my own Wiscasset writings. She resided for many years on High Street in the home that later became the Musical Wonder House. I wish I had known her; there are many questions I would have liked to ask her about Wiscasset.

    I mentioned the Wiscasset Female Charitable Society. Founded Oct. 18, 1805 by 45 community-spirited women, the organization is still going strong today with over 200 members scattered across the country. Did you know it’s the second oldest group of its kind in the United States? Sarah “Sally” Sayward Barrell Keating Wood of Wiscasset was its first president. The stated mission, then and now, is to provide financial help to single mothers, widows and young people. Madam Wood as she came to be known was a Wiscasset woman far ahead of her time. Credited as being Maine’s first novelist, she wrote four gothic novels, one of which was recently reprinted.

    There’s Miss Jane Tucker, too, who for decades resided in Castle Tucker on Lee Street, the historic home of her ancestors, many who were leading Wiscasset citizens. Miss Tucker who passed away in 2012 spent countless hours in the Wiscasset Public Library cataloging the archives and genealogy files. She also compiled an informative reference of Wiscasset’s cemeteries. Miss Tucker was active in the Lincoln County Historical Society, St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church and the Wiscasset Female Charitable Society. She had a vast amount of historical knowledge; and being very well read, and blessed with a remarkable memory, had an unmatched ability to discuss nearly any subject.

    Another who comes to mind is Judy Flanagan, our town’s first woman to serve on the Wiscasset Select Board. I recall asking Mrs. Flanagan how she wanted to be referred to in the newspaper. “As a selectman,” she said, preferring that to “selectwoman” or “select board member.” Mrs. Flanagan continues to be active in Wiscasset affairs, the budget committee, high school alumni association, female charitable society and more.

    Linda Bleile served 41 years as an educator and principal at Wiscasset Middle School. Among her accomplishments are being named Maine Administrator of the Year in 2009; Maine Principals Association Middle Level Principal of the Year for 2011 and National Distinguished Principal in 2011. She also served as President of the Maine Principals Association. Pretty impressive.  As an administrator Mrs. Bleile was devoted to her students and staff 24/7 and had an enormous amount of pride in her school. Now retired from education, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the Wiscasset Public Library.

    Cheryl Rust, whom the Wiscasset Select Board dedicated last year’s annual town report to, owned Le Garage Restaurant on Water Street from 1977 to 2017. Ms. Rust provided employment opportunities to many of our community’s young people. Over the years she’s volunteered her time to Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Maine Children’s Alliance, Miles Health Care, United Way of Midcoast Maine, Wiscasset Public Library, Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce and more. She’s also known for her kindness and generosity to local charities.

    These women could have succeeded anywhere but chose to make their home here in our community and for that we’re grateful. They’ve made Wiscasset a better place. Maybe after reading this, you can think of a woman who has had a positive influence in your life. Let them know.

    Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at