Our history is our strength

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Those who have not heard of Gail Laughlin will be more familiar with her after they see Mandy Tracey’s artwork in the 2020 Women’s History Month exhibition at Southwest Harbor Public Library.

Libraries around Mount Desert Island are celebrating throughout the month of March by highlighting women’s history with this year’s theme of “Our History is Our Strength.” This year also marks the 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote.

“It’s just a great celebration of women,” said Janet Elvidge, who has also submitted artwork for the exhibition.

Laughlin graduated from Cornell Law School in 1898, began practicing law in 1900 and reportedly was the first woman from Maine to do so. She is featured on Tracey’s piece along with runner Joan Benoit, astronaut Jessica Meir and Maine’s premiere female national politician, Margaret Chase Smith.

“Some of these women were the first women in Maine to do (these things),” said Tracey who learned about her subjects largely from doing research through the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame.

This is not the first time Tracey, 25, has featured her work in the Southwest Harbor library’s women’s history month exhibition. In addition to being strengthened by the women who have come before her, Tracey also relies on art to keep her strong.

“I tried to take every art class I could,” she said about her time as a student at MDI High School struggling with anxiety and stress. “I think doing artwork helped me greatly … I was still in high school when I registered to vote. I was too nervous to go.”

Tracey and Elvidge both recognize how important it is to vote and were encouraged to not only pursue art by their families but to make sure they participated in elections.

“I know I voted as soon as I could,” said Elvidge who has an art studio in Manset. “That was just instilled in us by our parents. They would say, ‘every vote counts’ … It’s really important to me. I don’t take it for granted that everyone can vote.”

In her piece for the women’s history exhibition Elvidge used conte crayon to capture one of her favorite volunteers in Southwest Harbor, Betsey Holtzman, who tends to the flowers at the library and throughout town.

“I was really struck by that and she’s really humble about it,” said Elvidge who was a library director for nearly three decades. “The drawing is for me to show gratitude for the volunteers in our community … Everyone needs to do their part by voting, just as volunteers do their part with communities and libraries.”

This is not the first time Elvidge has participated in the library’s women’s history exhibition either. Libraries were an integral part of her childhood and why she chose to pursue being a librarian.

“I always felt like an equal citizen at the library,” said Elvidge who is currently studying art at the University of Maine. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you need, you can get support at the library. There aren’t too many places in the world like that.”

But, she also wanted to be a full-time artist, which is something she and Tracey have in common. Using their talents to highlight women leaders is why each is participating in this year’s exhibition and encouraging young women to use their voice in at the polls.

“Everyone needs to vote, male or female, to make everything better,” said Tracey.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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