Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Eunice Nichols Frye, 1852-1923

By Demi Spirou and Brandon Johnson, students, SUNY Old Westbury. Faculty Sponsor: Carol Quirke, professor.

Founder, Women's Literary Union, 1889
Founder and Secretary, Maine State Federation of Women's Clubs, 1892.
Vice-President, National Dorothea Dix Association, 1904.

Eunice Nichols Frye was born on January, 1852 in Vassalboro, Kennebec County, Maine to Caleb Nichols and Maria S. Whitehouse. Family Search indicates that Eunice Nichols Frye was an only child. According to Hannah Grave and Julia Ward Howe's Representative Women of New England, Frye's religious background was Quaker (47) She attended school at Castine Normal School and later served as principal there. After graduating, she moved to New York where she taught and worked in a mental institution alongside her brother, a resident physician according to the Woman's Literary Union: History of our 85 Years, though Grave and Howe's account has her living with her brother in New York City. She married George C. Frye, chemist, and surgical instrument specialist, on June 15, 1880. Both she and her husband were philanthropists and described as warm-hearted people according to contemporary accounts. (Women's Literary Union, 6) Eunice Frye and her husband lived in Portland after their marriage. The couple had no children. According to Maine death records, her husband George C. Frye died on April 13, 1921 in Vassalboro, and Frye died in 1923 in nearby Waterville, Maine.

The Women's Literary Union history tells us that while in New York, Eunice Frye observed the lack of intellectual stimulus that women confronted. She also noticed that the mental illnesses that women in her care experienced were often caused by this emptiness, which kept them confined to maternal duties with no room for growth and mental stimulation. She believed in engaging women's energies. In 1889, Eunice Frye formed the Ladies Literary Union, a federation of Portland, Maine's fifty odd women's clubs, in order to help expand the cultural and educational opportunities for other women with strong support from her husband, George C. Frye, and Rev. Dr. Asa Dalton, the Episcopalian Rector of St Stephen's in Portland, Maine (Women's Literary Union, 6; Chamber of Commerce, 1910, 135).

The Women's Literary Union, as it was renamed in 1890, believed its founding established it as the first federation of women's clubs in the U.S., it was also the base of Maine's State Federation of Women's Clubs, which Frye promoted after attending the federation in Orange, New Jersey.(Women's Literary Union, 7, Grave and Howe and 48) This club promoted not only literacy but, education for women on a variety of topics ranging from gardening and sewing to public issues such as child labor, prison and mental health institutions, and the vote. (6) According to the "Third Biennial of the General Federation of Women's Clubs" in 1916, founder Eunice Frye's husband donated a house on Spring Street in Portland to be the Union's first headquarters, along with $10,000 to construct an auditorium, later named Frye Hall. Eunice Frye was named the Mother of the Federation due to her founding of the club and its inception in her home.(8) As a result of her national participation in Women's Clubs she met the deposed princess of Hawaii, Ka'iulani in 1893, according to the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier.

As well as being the vice-president, and founder of the Women's Literary Union, Eunice Frye was a civic leader. She served as the vice-president of the Civic Club of Portland and the founder and president of the Travelers' Club according to records in the Representative Women of New England. She was also a member of the advisory board for Maine's public school system in the first decade of the twentieth century (Stetson, 17) and served as the president of the board of directors of the Invalid's Home of Portland.(Associated Charities, 26) The positions of power that Mrs. Frye held can be seen as a major milestone for women in leadership.

Archival research does not reveal Frye's precise role in Maine's suffrage battles. However articles in local metropolitan dailies, such as the Portland Daily Press on September 22, 1900, indicate Frye's role as a director in statewide activities, additionally she was responsible for entertainment of women at the annual convention. Frye pushed for an active, broad membership base, and pushed for public debates as a mechanism to achieve the vote for women. Like most suffrage leaders, Eunice Nichols Frye demanded full suffrage as the "key proponent for a better future." She saw the franchise as inextricably linked with social and economic equality.

Eunice Frye also was the first president of the Institutional Care for Convalescent at the Mary Brown Home for women under the age of 65 who were in recovery from certain ailments who were usually self-reliant and self-sufficient (Associated Charities, 26) She remained president for twenty-five years. At a later date, she and her husband made a significant donation to the home, and it was renamed the Eunice Frye Home. She was also the national vice president of the Dorothea Dix Association (Howe and Graves, 47).


Portrait available at Accessed February 8, 2020.

From Women's Literary Union, ""Woman's Literary Union: History of our 85 Years: 1889-1974," Portland, Me.: The Union, 1975. Accessed on December 3, 2019, p. 5


Jane Cunningham Croly, The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (New York: H.G. Allen, 1898), p. 525. [LINK]


Albert Nelson Marquis, Who's Who in New England, Volume 1 (Chicago: A. N. Marquis and Co., 1909),,387-88. Accessed October 2, 2019

Associated Charities of Portland, Maine, "Thirty-fifth Annual Report and Social Service Directory," August 1914, p. 26 Google Books. Google. Accessed October 2, 2019.

Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade Journal of Portland, Maine, v. 23 (1910): 135, accessed on February 1, 2020, available at

Croly, Jane Cunningham. The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America (New York: Henry G. Allen and Co., 1898), 525. [LINK].

FamilySearch. Accessed October 2, 2019.

Eunice Nichols Frye, accessed October 2, 2019.

Grave, Hannah, and Julia Ward Howe, eds. Representative Women of New England, Boston: New England Historical Publishing, 1904, pp. 46-47. Google Books. Google. Accessed October 2, 2019. nichols frye portland maine&f=false.

The Club Woman v. 10 (September 1902): 16, 58, 246, 273 Google Books. Google. Accessed October 2, 2019.

The Eunice Frye Home, Frances Warde Convent. Accessed October 2, 2019.

Stetson, W.W. "Report of the State Superintendent of Public Schools in the State of Maine," 1904, p. 17. Google Books. Google. Accessed October 2, 2019. george c frye &f=false.

General Federation of Women's Clubs, "Third Biennial of the General Federation of Women's Clubs," p. 44. Accessible online at.

"Maine Melange," Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, 4 Apr 1893, 1.

"Who's Who in New England." Google Books. Google. Accessed October 2, 2019. nichols frye portland maine&f=false.

"Woman Suffragists," The Portland Daily Press. 22 September 1900. Accessed October 2, 2019.

Women's Literary Union, "Woman's Literary Union: History of our 85 Years: 1889-1974," Portland, Me.: The Union, 1975. Accessed on December 3, 2019,

Women's Literary Union, Portalnd, ME, Accessed February 8, 2020.

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