In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Life on a Tidal River

Ebb and Flow of Bangor History

Bangor and Social Reform Movements of the 1800s-1900s

Text by The 7th Grade Maine Studies Students of the William S. Cohen School.
Images provided by Bangor historical journalist Richard Shaw.

Bangor and the Temperance Movement

The Temperance Movement was a social movement whose purpose was to ban the consumption and sale of alcoholic beverages, especially hard liquor. The word temperance means “moderation”, avoiding overindulgence, and a balanced and self-disciplined way of dealing with one’s appetites. This movement first started in Saratoga, NY in 1808.

There was a very strong Temperance Movement in Maine. In fact, Maine became a leading state in this movement. Maine officially banned the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in 1851, and one man that was very involved in this movement was Neal Dow from Portland. The movement was also quite strong in Bangor. Even though there was a firm dislike of the consumption of liquor among many people in Bangor in the 1800's, it was controversial, as it was in many places, because others preferred to consume liquor. It was also a lucrative industry, and there were dozens of saloons, or bars, in Bangor. In 1900 there were about 70 bars operating in Bangor. Laws intended to stop the sale and use of liquor were often ignored. Officers would sometimes conduct raids but keep the liquor. Another way that Bangor was involved was because of the movie “The Strange Woman”. The movie was set in Bangor, 1824.

There were several pro-Temperance organizations with chapters in Bangor. For example the Federated Woman’s Club, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Maine Temperance Union, and the Christian Civic League were all pro-Temperance organizations represented in Bangor. The pro-Temperance organizations worked together to try and stop the consumption and purchasing of alcoholic beverages. They hosted rallies, gathered petitions, and took a number of other official actions requesting the state government to prohibit alcoholic beverages including visiting bar owners to try to get them to stop selling and visiting the local jail to try to get prisoners to join their cause and stop drinking. However, at one point Bangor also had what was called the Bangor Plan, which allowed hotels and such to serve alcohol if they went to court and paid a fee twice a year.

Bangor and the Women's Suffrage Movement

The Women’s Suffrage Movement began in the 1800's and was when both men women tried to ratify the right for women to vote. At the time, only men were allowed to vote. Women were prohibited by the government to vote until the 20th century. Women found it unfair that they were not given the same rights that men were given. The struggle for women to gain the right to vote started in Maine, in 1854, although, this is not when it became a major debate. It started to become a major conflict in the year of 1869.

There were several pro-suffrage organizations going in Bangor including the Men’s Equal Suffrage League of Maine. This was founded by Robert Treat Whitehouse. The first meeting was in the year of 1914. Another one of the pro-suffrage organizations was the Maine Woman Suffrage Association founded in 1873. The organization was somewhat active in Bangor. This was one of the most popular organizations as it was a Maine chapter of the National Women's Suffrage Association. Not only were there pro-suffrage organizations but anti-suffrage movements as well. These included the Maine Association Opposed to Suffrage for Women, founded in 1913. Several of these members were elite class citizens including women.

Florence Brooks Whitehouse was a very important member of the suffrage movement from Maine. She founded the Maine branch of the Congressional Union, which soon became the National Woman’s Party. She also helped form several other leagues during the Women’s Suffrage Movement, as well as lead them. Again, these organizations were active to an extent in Bangor as well as in Portland and other areas around the state. There were suffragist meetings in Bangor, and famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony visited Bangor for at least one such conference. Some suffragists in the movement focused on changing the national constitution to allow women the right to vote, and others focused on getting individual towns, cities, and states to allow women the right to vote. They didn't always agree, and this caused problems in the movement. Finally, on August 18, 1920 and after many decades of the Women's Suffrage Movement, the right for women to vote was finally ratified for women everywhere in the U.S. with the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Bangor and the Abolition Movement

Ever since Maine officially became a state in 1820, it has never allowed slavery. Some nationally-known abolitionists brought their message to others, including people in Bangor, to denounced the “peculiar institution.” Among these people were William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglas, and Ernestine Rose. Local leaders in the abolitionist movement included John Holyoke, Enoch Pond, Amory Battles, and Joseph Henry. As with other some of the other social movements of the times, the abolitionist movement was very connected to religious beliefs.

William Lloyd Garrison was a renowned leader of the anti-slavery movement. He spoke in Bangor in the 1830’s. Through his speeches, the Bangor Anti-Slavery Society emerged. The initial idea of William Lloyd Garrison's lectures were to bring an immediate end to slavery, but many “Bangorites” found this solution to be extreme. The Bangor Anti-Slavery Society’s purpose was to provide support to the Maine State Anti-Slavery Society. The first president of the Bangor Anti-Slavery Society was John Godfrey. During the 1800's a fair number of African Americans made Bangor their home.

John Holyoke, a man from Brewer, was another abolitionist from the 1800's. Although many people knew that he was an abolitionist, a surprising fact about how committed he may have been to his work was recently discovered. Apparently, Holyoke had a secret tunnel that ran under his house. This was possibly used to help run-away slaves hide and escape from those trying to capture them so they could then make their way to Canada. The tunnel ran from the Penobscot River located near Holyoke’s house in Brewer. The tunnel was found because the son of the family that later bought the house fell through the ground while mowing the lawn into an abandoned tunnel. In the tunnel were reportedly old clothes and other items which may have been used to disguise the slaves as they made their way to Canada.

Many of the abolitionists in the 1800's were priests and reverends. Three main people out. One of them was Enoch Pond, a founder of the Bangor Theological Seminary. In the early 1800's, Pond published a book against slavery. Another was Reverend Amory Battles. Battles was an abolitionist at the Unitarian Church in Bangor in the 1850's. He was an eloquent educator and gentle pastor, though strongly against slavery and spoke against it often. The other was Joseph Henry. He was also an abolitionist in 1850's, and he worked alongside Battles in trying to convince people to be anti-slavery.

In 1855 some famous abolitionists came to Bangor and spoke to the citizens of Bangor about slavery. These included Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist of the 19th century, and Ernestine Rose, a feminist and abolitionist who traveled around the world. Frederick Douglas visited Bangor because to meet with Reverend Amory Battles about abolition. He spoke in Bangor and also Waterville. Ernestine Rose came to speak in Bangor in December. After her speech, a local newspaper attacked her for her ideas and views not only on slavery but on others as well. Reverend Battles came to her defense in a different newspaper, defending her views and saying that Rose was a good person and a good abolitionist.


Bangor is a city with a very rich history, and its significant involvement with these social movements is another example. These movements shaped Bangor, the state of Maine, and the nation in very important ways, and their legacies remain with us to this very day.


Bergquist, David. “Life on a Tidal River.” Life on a Tidal River - Narrative, Maine Historical Society, Accessed 8 Feb. 2017.

Koenig, Seth. “Once Famously Blasted in a Maine Newspaper, Abolitionist Named Humanistic Jewish Role Model for the Year.” Seth and the City, BDN Maine Blog Network, 7 Jan. 2012, Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

Lange, Allison. “Early Organizing Efforts.” History of U.S. Woman's Suffrage, National Women's History Museum, 2015, Accessed 25 May 2017.

“Maine: First Dry State in 1851.” Affordable Acadia, Affordable Acadia, 13 Oct. 2010, Accessed 25 May 2017.

“Maine Memory Network Maine's Online Museum.” Maine Memory Network Exhibit - Suffrage in Maine, Maine Historical Society, 21 May 2017, Accessed 25 May 2017.

“A People's History of Colby College: Activism and Social Justice Since 1813 » Frederick Douglass Visits Maine.” A Peoples History of Colby College Activism and Social Justice Since 1813, Colby College, 6 Mar. 2013, Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

"Temperance movement." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 7 May. 2017. Accessed 21 Dec. 2016.

Zelz, Abigail Ewing, and Marilyn Zoidis. Woodsmen and Whigs: Historic Images of Bangor, Maine. Virginia Beach, VA, Donning Co., 1991, p. 129.

Ziffer, Carolyn Kinnard, and Dorothy A. Hawkes. “Church History.” Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor :: UUSB History, Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, 2003, Accessed 15 Feb. 2017.

Unitarian Bangor Minister and Abolitionist Amory Battles
Unitarian Bangor Minister and Abolitionist Amory Battles
Brewer Abolitionist John Holyoke
Brewer Abolitionist John Holyoke
Bangor Abolitionist George Thatcher
Bangor Abolitionist George ThatcherThatcher was the first Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society of Bangor.
Women's Christian Temperance Union of Bangor Parade Sept. 15, 1909
Women's Christian Temperance Union of Bangor Parade Sept. 15, 1909
Bar on Exchange Street in 1904
Bar on Exchange Street in 1904
Unitarian Church
Unitarian Church
Unitarian Church
Unitarian Church The Church of Staunch Bangor Abolitionist Minister Amory Battles
Unitarian Church
Unitarian Church