The U.S. Custom House and Women in Politics

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The U.S. Custom House and Women in Politics

312 Fore Street at Custom House Street

Lucia Cormier (1909-1993) was the only woman District Collector of Customs in Maine. President John F. Kennedy appointed her in 1961, and she held the position until her retirement in 1974. A former modern language teacher in Rumford, Cormier served six terms in the Maine House of Representatives. She was elected as the first woman minority floor leader in 1959. She ran for the U.S. Senate in 1960 as a Democratic candidate opposing incumbent Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Time Magazine thought having two women running for the Senate from the same state was so unusual that it featured a picture of the two of them on its cover.

The first woman employee at the Custom House was Rose Alice Henry, secretary to the Inspector of Immigration for 28 years before her death. She began in the Custom House as a stenographer in 1899. By 1907, there were 500 women stenographers and typists in Portland, a field that was fairly new at the time. Although most of these women earned an average of $8 a week, an especially skilled woman could earn up to $20, particularly if she could also do bookkeeping.

En route to the next stop on this walk, note the trompe l’oeil mural of the former Post Office in that building across Tommy’s Park at Middle Street between Market and Exchange Streets. Helen Cunningham Donahue (1872-1974) served as Portland’s postmaster from 1934 to 1949, the first woman to become head of a first-class post office in Maine.