Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lydia Louisa Neal Dennett, 1798-1881
By Sue McNelly, independent historian
Lydia Louisa Neal Dennett was born in 1798 in Eliot, York county, Maine. She was educated in a Quaker home, and later married Mr. Oliver Dennett. There was in Portland, Maine a group of like minded individuals, all involved in the anti-slavery, temperance and woman suffrage movements. Lydia Neal Dennett and her husband, Oliver, were among these pioneering individuals.
A Portland Female Anti-Slavery Society meeting in the First Parish Church in Portland in the 1840s resulted in an anti-slavery riot. Stephen S. Foster was the visiting speaker. Society members Lydia Neal Dennett and Elizabeth Widgery Thomas escorted Foster to safety through a rear window next door to the house of Comfort Hussey Winslow.
Lydia Dennett's home on Spring Street, in Portland, was a well-known station in the underground railway system helping slaves to escape to freedom. She was integral in arranging transportation for a rescued slave, a mulatto woman, Mrs. Crafts, and her husband, from Portland to England.
Lydia Dennett filed the first suffrage petition to the Maine State Legislature in 1872. Lydia Neal Dennett, Mrs. A.J.W. Stevens and Sarah J. Prentiss collected 215 signatures, and were joined by leaders from the American Women Suffrage Association. The goal of the AWSA was to achieve state suffrage first, then national suffrage. In 1869, Lydia Dennett served on the executive committee of the AWSA and in 1872, was elected vice president.
In 1873, Lydia's first cousin, John Neal, put out a call for a statewide convention. Hundreds answered the call and the Maine Woman Suffrage Association was formed.
Oliver Dennett died in 1851 and Lydia, now a widow, continued in her efforts to fight for the advance of women. She died on 4 June 1881 at the age of 83, and was buried at Evergreen cemetery in Portland, Maine. On 7 June 1881, the Portland Daily Press published an article on the funeral of Mrs. Dennett. Mr. Grover, a life long friend, described Lydia Neal Dennett as, "In life, in work, in faith, in death, Mrs. Dennett was a most remarkable woman".
Lydia Dennett was further described in the book, "Mothers of Maine" as, "a stately woman in appearance. She was remarkable as a conversationalist; expressed herself clearly; argued eloquently; was the equal of men and women of mark. She was a fine story-teller, and possessed an unconscious power of personation that made her a rare entertainer."
Shannon M. Risk, "'In Order To Establish Justice': The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick" (2009) Electronic Thesis and Dissertations. 181. http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/181
Helen Coffin Beedy, Mothers of Maine (Portland: The Thurston Print, 1895), Chapter XVIII, pp. 239-41; digital images, Archive.org (https://archive.org/details/mothersofmaine00beed : accessed 21 November 2017).
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume III (Rochester: Charles Mann, printer, 1887), page 365; LINK.
Find A Grave, database and images (http://findagrave.com : accessed 19 November 2017), memorial page for Lydia Louisa Neal Dennett (died 1881), Find A Grave Memorial no. 166134336, citing Evergreen cemetery, Portland, Cumberland County, Maine.
"Maine, Death Records, 1761-1922," database with images, Maine State Archives, Augusta; Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : accessed 19 November 2017), Lydia Louisa Dennett death, 4 June 1881.
"Funeral of Mrs. Dennett," Portland Daily Press (Maine), 7 June 1881; digital image, Genealogy Bank (https://beta.genealogybank.com/ : accessed 21 November 2017).