Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Dr. Jennie Fuller, 1852-1931
By Dr. Shannon M. Risk, Associate Professor of History, Niagara University
Doctor in Hartland, Maine; Leading Maine Suffragist
In 1869, Jennie Fuller was born into a farming family in Hartland, Maine. Her parents, Sarah A. Underwood and James Fuller, had ties to the first white settlers of the town. By the middle 1800s, Hartland could boast of a fine academy, an opera house, and woolen and tanning industries. Fuller attended the Hartland Academy on Academy Street, located near the family homestead. According to Bruce Fowler of the Hartland Historical Society, Fuller studied to be a teacher in Salem, Massachusetts, at the Normal School. However, much like her contemporary, Anna Howard Shaw, an internationally known suffragist, Jennie soon enrolled at the Boston University School of Medicine, graduating in 1882. Fuller then traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, to gain experience as a doctor.
Fuller remained single, choosing to focus on the study of medicine, and opened a homeopathic practice in Hartland. She joined other notable female doctor-suffragists in Maine in this era, including Dr. Mary Alice Avery, Dr. Sarah W. Devoll, Dr. Jane Lord Hersom, and Dr. Emily Titus, all from Portland; Ellsworth Doctor Abby Fulton; and Dr. Mary Bates Stevens in Auburn. These female doctors emerged in an era where intellectuals and scientists actively debated whether women could use both their brains and reproductive systems simultaneously, while others argued that girls and women should seek more physical activity, which would, in fact, make them healthier. Fowler notes that Fuller and Mrs. Mary Connelly were instrumental in establishing the hot lunch program for students in the area.
Jennie Fuller became active in the Maine Woman Suffrage Movement (MWSA), along with her sister, Harriet "Hattie" Fuller Baker, in the 1890s. Harriet purchased lifetime memberships for Jennie and their mother Sarah. Jennie Fuller and her cohort represented the third generation of suffragists in Maine, dating back to the 1850s. She actively mingled with long-standing, nationally recognized suffragists like Ann Greeley and Charlotte Thomas of Ellsworth, demonstrating the intergenerational aspects of the movement.
Fuller rose through the ranks of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association, and in 1893, the MWSA identified her as a "prominent worker" in the state suffrage movement. By the early 1900s, Dr. Fuller served as one of the directors of the MWSA, as corresponding secretary. She headed the resolutions committee at the 1907 Maine Woman Suffrage Association state convention. She led the Somerset Equal Suffrage Club in Pittsfield by 1908, keeping the suffrage sentiment alive in her region.
She maintained the family home in Hartland through at least 1920, joined by her sister, Harriet, who was now a widow, in retirement. Dr. Fuller moved to Portland in later years, noted by U.S. Census-takers as a lodger in the home of fellow suffrage veteran Helen N. Bates (president of the Portland Equal Suffrage Association from 1912-1916) in 1930. By then, the nation had plunged into a Great Depression, and it made sense for these two former suffragists to share the rent and companionship in their later years. Furthermore, Bates biographer Cheryl L. Souza writes that Bates had been in "ill health" for a while, and perhaps Fuller helped in her care. In 1931, 78-year-old Dr. Jennie Fuller died. She shares a gravestone with her sister Harriet, labeled "Sisters," at the family plot, Fuller's Corner, in Hartland, Maine. Fuller's steadfastness in pursuing her professional and political goals resonated in her community. Wayne Libby wrote in his history of Hartland (as cited in Fowler), "according to all reports, she was never reluctant to express her opinion on all matters."
Anthony, Susan B., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and National American Woman Suffrage Association. Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Washington, D.C.: The Association, 1893.
Boston University School of Medicine. "History." Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.bumc.bu.edu/busm/about/history/.
Bruce Fowler and Hartland (Maine) Historical Society. "Dr. Jennie Fuller Biography, Hartland Academy (Hartland, Maine) Facebook Page. March 25, 2013. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/notes/hartland-academy-hartland-maine/dr-jennie- fuller-biography/10151587952206412/
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume V. New York, New York: J. Little Company, 1922: 310-331.
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Was Established in Boston." WGBH News. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.wgbh.org/news/2016/11/04/how-we-live/doctresses-medicine-worlds-1st-female-medical-school-was-established-boston.
"Jennie Fuller (1851-1931)," https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/97173257, Accessed January 21, 2020.
Libby, Wayne. Hartland, Maine – 1820-1970 Sesquicentennial Book. Hartland, Maine: 1970. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://www.hartlandmainehistoricalsociety.org/1970-sesquicentennial-book.html.
Maine Memory Network. "Hartland Academy." Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/77479/zoom.
Minnesota State Census, 1885. Accessed January 18-21, 2020. www.familysearch.org.
National American Woman Suffrage Association. 40th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. New York, New York: The Association, 1908.
Risk, Shannon M. In Order to Establish Justice: The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick. Ph.D. diss., University of Maine, 2009: 97-98, 222-223.
Souza, Cheryl L. "Biographical Sketch of Helen N. Bates." Online Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920. Accessed January 28, 2020. https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1009656651.
U.S. Census, 1880, 1910, 1920, 1930. Accessed January 18-21, 2020. www.familysearch.org.