Biographical Sketch of Fannie Jeanette Fernald

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Fannie Jeanette Fernald, 1854-1943

By Anna Assogba, Research Librarian, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Superintendent of Literature for Maine Woman's Suffrage Association; President of Maine Woman's Suffrage Association

Fannie (alternately spelled Fanny) Perham was born on April 2, 1854 in Derry, New Hampshire, to E.G. and Mary (neé Colby) Perham. She completed eight grades of school in Derry. After marrying William Fernald in 1876, in Rochester, New Hampshire, she and her husband moved to Maine, settling first in Saco and then in Old Orchard. Her husband worked for the Boston and Maine Railroad for 43 years. They moved out of the state in July 1911 and lived in Massachusetts for several years before moving in 1926 to Pasadena, California, for William's health. Fannie passed away December 13, 1943, in Los Angeles. Though she and her husband had three children; none of them survived childhood.

Fannie took on various roles in the woman's suffrage movement during her time in Maine. She served as the Maine Woman's Suffrage Association (W. S. A.) Superintendent of Literature from 1893-1905. In this role, each year she sent out or distributed at events various woman's suffrage publications, including issues of the Boston-based suffrage publication ​Woman's Journal​, and ​Progress​ (the official newsletter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association until ​Progress​ merged with ​Woman's Journal​ in 1910). Private citizens made requests for literature from the Maine W. S. A., as did various organizations, including debating, literary, agricultural, and other societies, high schools, colleges, and fairs. Fannie had a great desire to make people aware of the importance of woman's suffrage through the distribution of such literature; writing to the editors of the ​Woman's Journal​ in September 1907 about the importance of that publication, she said, “I only wish I could lead more people to see it.” She put in large orders for publications even during the summer months, when other chapters may have taken time off. In August 1905, she requested several of the latest copies of ​Progress​ for the Maine W. S. A.'s annual meeting at Ocean Park. The copies did not arrive before Fannie had to leave for the event, but as Fannie wrote in her report about the event in ​Woman's Journal​ the following month, “Mr. Fernald, knowing how much [she] wanted them, brought them over.” The editors of the National Column in ​Woman's Journal​ noted, “We are as much pleased at this manifestation of interest on the part of Mr. Fernald as we are gratified because the papers reached the meeting.” Further support of Fannie's suffrage activities by her husband is evidenced by his attending two national conventions with her, in 1906 and 1908.

Fannie had already served on the executive committee of the Maine W. S. A. for several years before being elected vice-president of the organization in 1904, and then president in 1905. She served as president until 1911 and received a lifetime membership in the organization in 1912. During her time as president, she traveled and spoke at various suffrage events, both regionally and nationally. Starting in 1906, she attended the national convention, where she gave the Maine state report every year until the end of her presidency, with the exception of 1909, when the annual convention was held in Seattle. She also attended the New England W. S. A.'s annual meetings from 1905 to 1908, held in Boston. She had already been a regular attender of the annual convention of the Maine W. S. A. and continued that practice during her presidency. The Maine chapter also held an annual Field Day (sometimes referred to as “Suffrage Day”) at Old Orchard, Maine. On Field Days, various members of the local woman's suffrage clubs from around the state gathered for morning speakers and discussion, then held an informal, social gathering over lunch. Fannie usually oversaw these gatherings during her time as president, and at the 1907 Field Day, she “won many compliments for the pleasing manner in which she conducted affairs.”

Beyond these national, regional, and local events, Fannie was also called upon to speak in other capacities. The woman's suffrage chapters of other New England states asked her to speak at their annual conventions, including Rhode Island in 1907 and New Hampshire from 1908-1910. She undertook a “lecture tour” into the more remote areas of Maine in the summer of 1909, speaking primarily to agricultural organizations and churches. Reports of her speeches describe her as “very inspiring,” with a “charming manner,” and speaking “with a force and brevity which might serve as a model for many of the men who do have the ballot.” When the scheduled speaker, Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, could not make it to the 1907 Maine W. S. A. annual convention, Fannie “was equal to the occasion, and nobly took her a concise and eloquent speech which quite won the audience to herself...” On March 3, 1908, Fannie was one of ten members of the National Association who spoke before the United States Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage. In her speech, she recalled the words of Susan B. Anthony when she had spoken before the Senate in previous years. Fannie asked whether Maine's failure to grant woman's suffrage was in part due to the lack of action by the U.S. legislature. She called upon the senators to give women responsibility equal to men and to consider the role of women of utmost importance in contributing to a strong and decent society. Closer to home, Fannie was also part of a group that asked for the right to vote for women before the Maine House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on February 17, 1909.

In 1910, the Maine W. S. A., with participation from the Maine State Grange, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the Socialist Party, prepared a petition for the woman's vote to the U.S. Congress. Fannie was preparing to send the signed petition off but before she could do so, a fire incinerated her home, where the papers were being stored. Describing this setback in a yearly state report to the National W. S. A., Fannie focused on the positive, highlighting the good connections made and the encouragement found by finding supporters in various places. She ended her note in a spirit of hope:

We are earnestly looking forward to the time when Maine will be able to report some definite work accomplished, some victory gained, and so we work on seeing here and there a bit of sunshine, a little freer press, a little more willingness to discuss the question, a little less prejudice toward the public activities of women, which develop power, and a demand for equality of rights in service.

In the final year of her presidency, Fannie reported an increased focus on the state legislature by the Maine W. S. A. As many other state W. S. A.s did, the Maine W. S. A. asked each legislator for his opinion of woman's suffrage, and “the replies showed more sympathy and contained more promises of support than at any time during the last six years.” One imagines that Fannie must have felt gratified for the progress made toward changing the mindsets of the decision-makers after many years of hard work dedicated to the cause of woman's suffrage.

Sources: ​1880, 1910-1940 United States Federal Census​. Lehi, UT, USA. ​California, Death Index, 1940-1997​. Provo, UT, USA. ​New Hampshire, Marriage Records Index, 1637-1947​. Provo, UT, USA.

“Annual Business Meeting of the New England Associates,” ​Boston Globe​ (Boston, MA), May 12, 1905.

“Five Days: Women Suffragists Will Continue Their Convention,” ​Cincinnati Enquirer​ (Cincinnati, OH), February 15, 1907.

Goodier, Susan, and Karen Pastorello. ​Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State​. Cornell University Press, 2017.

“Head of Maine Woman Suffragists,” ​Boston Daily Globe​ (Boston, MA), November 12, 1905.

Hearing before the Select Committee on Woman Suffrage of the United States Senate on the joint resolution (S.R. 47) proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex​, 60th Cong. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1908.

“Ideal Conditions Promised Through Woman Suffrage,” ​Baltimore Sun​ (Baltimore, MD), February 10, 1906.

“Lady Murray Guest: New England Suffragists in Annual Meeting. Delegates Learns [sic] Progress of Movement Throughout the World,” ​Boston Daily Globe​ (Boston, MA), May 9, 1907.

“Legislative News: Maine,” ​Progress​ 8, no. 3 (March 1909).

“Like the Millennium: Almost Ideal Conditions Promised Through Woman Suffrage. Lyric Rings With Argument. Ex-President Cleveland The Target For Many Shafts--Delegates Have Fun With Editors,” ​The Sun​ (Baltimore, MD), February 10, 1906.

“Maine Women Ask Legislature for Franchise,” ​Daily Kennebec Journal​ (Augusta, ME), October 20, 1910.

“Maine Suffrage Club's Field Day,”​ Christian Science Monitor​ (Boston, MA), August 13, 1909.

National American Woman Suffrage Association. ​Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.​ vols. 34-44 (1902-1912).

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. ​History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920​, New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]

“State Correspondence,” ​Progress​ 6, no. 11 (November 1907).

“Suffragists Change Role,” ​Louisville Courier Journal​ (Louisville, KY), October 20, 1911.

“W. F. Fernald in Good Health,” ​Biddeford Daily Journal ​(Biddeford, ME), July 28, 1936.

Woman's Journal​, Boston, MA, 1900-1911.


Fannie J. Fernald, 1905.
Taken from “Head of Maine Woman Suffragists,” Boston Daily Globe (Boston, MA), November 12, 1905.

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