Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Augusta M (Mrs. George S.) Hunt 1842-1932
By Sarah H. Case, UC Santa Barbara
Augusta Barstow was born in Portland, Maine, in 1842 to George Simonton Barstow and Ellen Barstow. In 1863, at the age of 21, she married George S. Hunt, a wealthy merchant involved with trade with the West Indies, exporting lumber and importing sugar. They had two children, Arthur K. Hunt (1864-1960) and Philip Barstow Hunt (1869-1948).
Hunt became active as a philanthropist, and like many women of her time, focused primarily on working on behalf of women and children. She worked to create free kindergartens and day nurseries in Maine. She also helped shape public policy. Reportedly, she heard about a woman whose husband sent their children to live in Canada with his family against her wishes. Outraged by this, in 1895 she successfully lobbied the state legislature for a law that would give women equal guardianship over their children. Hunt was also active in prison reform, working to create a reformatory prison for women and cottage system for boys in Maine; she served as a governor-appointed member of the Reform School Committee in the 1880s. She served as president of Portland's Home for Aged Women and of the Portland Woman's Council. She had literary and historical interests as well; she presided over the Ladies' History Club of Portland and was one of the first women admitted to the Maine Historical Society. She was an avid reader and hosted a Charles Dickens club. Once the author visited Portland and she spotted him walking up her street, but refrained from approaching him; as she wrote, "I would have liked to shake his hand and tell him what his books meant to me, but I recalled what he had said about ladies gushing, and I made up my mind I was not going to gush."
Hunt's interest in the protection of women and children led her to a prominent role in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an organization that viewed alcohol restriction as only part of its mission of aiding the vulnerable. In 1876, Hunt and other women organized a Maine chapter of the WCTU. Hunt served as president for fifteen years. Under Hunt's leadership, in 1878 the Maine chapter officially became an auxiliary to the national WCTU, and Hunt served as national superintendent of three different areas of the organization.
Like other activist women of her time, and particularly within the WCTU, Hunt became interested in suffrage as a way to support causes she felt deeply about. Hunt and other WCTU members worked, unsuccessfully, to get the state legislature to fully enfranchise women. Several partial suffrage laws also largely failed, but one did secure the right of women in Maine to serve on school boards.
Hunt supported woman suffrage for three decades. The first surviving reference notes that Mrs. G. S. Hunt was elected in 1891 as an officer of the state-wide Suffrage League. She continued after her husband's death in 1897. By the 1910s she had largely retired from activism, but in 1916 agreed to serve as interim president of Maine Women's Suffrage Association after a leadership dispute. That year, members of the organization believed that they might have a chance to pass a suffrage measure by referendum, and Hunt threw her support behind the campaign, despite opposition from the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the NAWSA, although generally supportive of state campaigns, was skeptical of success in Maine. Catt proved to be right--the measure was decisively defeated.
In the November 1920 election, months after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Hunt had the distinction of becoming the first woman in Maine to cast a ballot. She died in Portland in 1932, at age 90.
Anne B. Gass, "Meet the First Women Ever to Vote in Maine: Augusta Merrill Barstow Hunt," Portland Magazine (November 2019)
Kate Burch, "Women's Suffrage in Portland," Greater Portland Landmarks, https://www.portlandlandmarks.org/blog/2019/11/1/womens-suffrage-in-portland
"Augusta Merrill Hunt," Geni, https://www.geni.com/people/Augusta-Hunt/6000000015183037134
Mrs. Lucy Hobart Day, Miss Helen N. Bates, and Mrs. Sara P. Anthoine , "Historical Sketch of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association," In Maine State Library, Digital Maine, League of Women Voters, Mrs. Wing's, Scrapbook, 69.129.2.