Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Abbie Ann Capen Peaslee, 1849-1920
By An Thuy Nguyen, PhD Candidate, The University of Maine, Orono, Maine
President, Androscoggin County (ME), Woman's Christian Temperance Union; President, Androscoggin County (ME), Woman's Literary Union
Abbie Ann Philbrook was born on April 3, 1849 in Biddeford, Maine to John Marston and Ann Maria (Hazlett) Philbrook. As a young child, she received early education at the Lewiston public school and later graduated from Biddeford High School. On July 28, 1869, Abbie married Cyrus Lowell Capen, with whom she had a son Clarence Lester Capen (born on August 30, 1870). Cyrus Capen died on May 15, 1871. On August 1, 1874, Abbie remarried George LeBaron Peaslee, a medical doctor from Wilton, Maine. Peaslee adopted her son and changed his name to Cyrus Capen Peaslee. In 1886, Abbie Peaslee graduated from the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, a non-profit institution that provided women and others with an alternative four-year program of non-traditional college education. After George Peaslee died in 1912, Abbie lived with her son, his wife, and their child in Auburn, Maine until her death on January 30, 1920.
Abbie Ann Peaslee was an unyielding believer in woman suffrage and temperance. Throughout her accomplished life, Peaslee held prominent positions in various Maine women's groups, including as president of the Woman's Literary Union of Androscoggin county and the Maine State Council of the Daughters of American Revolution, and as vice-president of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association in 1899. Her first significant post, however, was as president of the Grange-Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Auburn from 1889 to 1890. From 1883 to 1893, Peaslee represented Maine at different national conventions of the National Woman Suffrage Association, as well as at the World's Congress of Representative Women of the Columbian Exposition in 1893.
In addition to speaking on behalf of suffrage at multiple hearings for the Maine Legislature, Abbie Peaslee also represented the state at the United States Senate Hearing before the Committee on Woman Suffrage in Washington, D.C. on February 21, 1894. In her speech, Peaslee eloquently appealed to the Committee's support by delineating the ongoing battle for suffrage in her home state. "Only two arguments," she said, "have been presented in Maine against woman suffrage." The first was the fear that suffrage would give disproportionate influence to the "foreign population" of newly immigrated Canadians in Maine. The second was based on the recent "voting of women in Boston," which had actually shown a decline in "women voting" compared to the past. In refuting both of these arguments, Peaslee insisted that "woman has ever been ready at the crucial times in the history of the nation to stand by its liberties and to stand by its institutions." Enfranchisement would not only give meaning to women's citizenship but also consolidate and augment the ties women shared with their "loved land."
In addition to suffrage, Abbie Peaslee also retained a strong commitment to the issues of temperance, health, and children's wellness throughout her life. She continued to hold important positions within the WCTU both at county and state levels even after her presidency ended in 1890. In September 1908, she served as one of the state superintendents and speakers at the Maine WCTU State Convention in Rockland. In her speeches on "Hygienic Reform, Heredity, and Physical Culture," Peaslee welcomed "the enforcement of the pure food and drug law" that would protect homes from "the invasion of pestilent diseases" and "unprincipled manufacturers of food stuffs," while encouraging women and children to cultivate "spiritual beauty" through physical exercises and healthy living. Peaslee was subsequently chosen as one of the state's delegates to the National WCTU Convention at Baltimore in November that year. She has undoubtedly remained one of the most prominent women in Maine's history to this day.
Hearing before the Committee on Woman Suffrage, United States Senate, 53rd Cong. 2 (1894), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pur1.32754082258439&view=1up&seq=1. Accessed May 12, 2020.
Leonard, John William, ed. Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. New York: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914. [LINK]
Maine WCTU. Thirty-fourth Annual Report of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Maine. Rockland: Press of the Courier-Gazette, 1908.
Merrill, Georgia Drew, ed. History of Androscoggin County, Maine. Boston: W.A. Fergusson & Company, 1891.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady et al. History of Woman Suffrage: vol. 4 [LINK]
United States Census, 1920. FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org/search/linker?ark=/ark:/61903/1:1:MFZ7-G6Z&id=M6HN-MNJ. Accessed May 11, 2020.