Margaret S. White (Dyer) in the 1920s. She was born in 1879 and died in 1965. Her granddaughter Debbie Dyer lives in Bar Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBBIE DYER

Bar Harbor woman made history with write-in bid for probate post

BAR HARBOR — Things moved fast in the late-summer weeks of 1920 as the constitutional amendment allowing women to vote in federal elections was being ratified. And one woman in Bar Harbor acted quickly, too: Margaret S. Dyer ran as a write-in candidate for Hancock County Register of Probate, becoming the first woman in Maine to run for public office. 

On Aug. 20, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State issued the official proclamation that the Nineteenth Amendment had been duly ratified by 36 state legislatures.  

On Sept. 1the Ellsworth American printed a sample ballot for the Sept. 13 election. “Women may vote at the coming state and presidential elections,” the paper notes. “This was made possible by the ratification of the federal amendment giving them equal rights with men in voting, and the Maine legislature, in special session yesterday, provided the necessary machinery for registering women voters, as must be done before they can vote.” 

The notice went on to list the dates, times and places special sessions of the board of registration in Ellsworth, and a reminder that “women must register if they wish to vote.” 

Robert P. King was running as the Republican candidate for Register of Probate, and there was no Democratic candidate listed on the sample ballot. The constitutional amendment was ratified too late for female candidates to get their names on the ballot, but Dyer decided to run as a declared write-in. 

“The Democrats wanted the honor of having the first woman in Maine to run for public office,” she told the Brunswick Times Record in 1964, “so they persuaded me to run.” 

The American noted her candidacy in the Sept. 8 edition. 

King won the race for Register of Probate, but “the people of Bar Harbor were solidly behind me,” she told the Times Record years later. She also received 30 votes in Mount Desert, 18 in Ellsworth and “a scattering vote throughout the county,” the American reported Sept. 15, 1920. 

“The women of the state took an important part in the election — more important than the number of women who voted would indicate,” Congressman John Peters, a Republican from Ellsworth, told the American after the election. “The most intelligent, earnest and public-spirited women in each community that came under my observation were the ones who came forward, regardless of their previous attitude on suffrage, and helped organize and stimulate other women to vote their convictions. 

“The women who during the war were active in the Red Cross, the church women, the club women, and others representing the best thought of the community,” he continued, practically took charge of the situation and have shown a loyalty and devotion to civic duty which is a great object lesson to the men.” 

Dyer, who later remarried and became Margaret White, lived in Bar Harbor, Topsham and Brunswick, spending some winters in Florida. She died in 1965. Her granddaughter Debbie Dyer lives in Bar Harbor. 

“She was a very political person,” Debbie Dyer said. When Debbie was a child, she remembers that no one in the room was allowed to be talking when her grandmother was watching the weekend political morning shows on television. “She wanted to hear every word.” 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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