Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lillian M. N. Stevens, 1844-1914
By Emma Schroeder, University of Maine
Lillian M. N. Stevens was born Lillian Marilla Nickerson Ames in Dover, Maine, on March 1, 1844. Her parents, Nathaniel and Nancy (Parsons) Ames, both hailed from Cornville, near Dover. Stevens was educated at Foxcroft Academy and then at Westbrook Seminary in Portland, Maine. After working as a schoolteacher, and one of the first women to serve during a winter term, she married Michael Stevens in 1865. Her husband supported her civic work, becoming "one of the most genial of hosts ... in their hospitable home" to her many coworkers. They had one daughter, Gertrude Rose Stevens, who married William Leavitt. She received an honorary degree from Bates College in 1911. By the time of her death on April 6, 1914, Stevens had spent over 40 years advocating for prohibition, suffrage, and prison reform in Maine and around the world.
Stevens joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) soon after its founding in 1873. In 1874, she helped found the Maine W.C.T.U. Stevens served as treasurer for several years before becoming president of the Maine WCTU in 1878, a role she filled until her death. She worked alongside Neal Dow, leader of temperance reform in Maine, to pass Maine prohibition legislation. Stevens advocated tirelessly for prohibition, riding over 50,000 miles across Maine to nearly every town. She also gave speeches across the nation.
From 1874 on, Stevens played an active role in the National W.C.T.U. Stevens and Frances Willard, president of the National W.C.T.U., became fast friends after Willard gave a talk in Maine. According to Willard, Stevens was "as sweet and wholesome as her own piny wood." Stevens first attended a National W.C.T.U. meeting in 1876, serving as assistant recording secretary and recording secretary through the 1880s. In 1894 the W.C.T.U. formed the position of vice-president-at-large which Stevens filled when nominated to do so by Willard; in 1898 she assumed the presidency when Willard died with Stevens at her deathbed. By 1900, Stevens had been elected the president-at-large of the World's W.C.T.U. and served in that role until her death.
By 1891, Stevens was a crucial member of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association. She sat on its executive committee in 1891 and continued to advocate suffrage through her temperance work. Stevens undertook a massive petition for suffrage in 1895, contacting 9,532 members of the Maine W.C.T.U. to advocate for the vote. She stopped working on suffrage when asked to do so, as others worried that the cause of temperance would detract from women gaining the vote.
Stevens epitomized the strength of women's professional volunteerism at the turn of the 20th century. Alongside suffrage and prohibition, Stevens fought for prison reform and public support for impoverished women and children. She helped found the Temporary Home for Women and Children in Portland. She also volunteered at the Industrial School for Girls, the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and the National Council of Women.
Leavitt, Gertrude Stevens. Lillian M.N. Stevens: A Life Sketch. N.p: N.p, 1921. https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:2582388$7i. Accessed August 11, 2020.
"Lillian M.N. Stevens." In Representative Women of New England, edited by Mary Elvira Elliot et al., 19-22. Boston: New England Historical Publishing Company, 1904.
"Lillian Stevens: A Voice for Temperance and a Vote for Women." Bangor Daily News, March 6, 2008. https://archive.bangordailynews.com/2008/03/06/lillian-stevens-a-voice-for-temperance-and-a-vote-for-women/. Accessed August 13, 2020.
Risk, Shannon. "In Order to Establish Justice": The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick" (2009). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 181. https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/181
Ward, Sarah F. Lillian M.N. Stevens: Champion of Justice. Evanston, Illinois: Signal Press, 2004.