Biographical Sketch of Gertrude Helen McKenzie Pattangall

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Gertrude Helen McKenzie Pattangall, 1874-1950

By Janolyn Lo Vecchio: independent historian

Politics and suffrage contributed equally in shaping the life of Gertrude Helen McKenzie Pattangall. She was born on August 13, 1874 in Machias, Washington County, Maine. Her parents were Edward L. McKenzie and Ella Walton Manning. On September 21, 1892, she married her former teacher William Robinson Pattangall (sometimes spelled Pattengall), a widower with a young daughter, in Machias, Maine.

Born on June 29, 1865 in Pembroke, Washington County, Maine, William Robinson Pattangall was the son of Ezra Lincoln Pattangall and Arethusa Longfellow. In 1884, William graduated from the University of Maine and married his first wife, Jean Mary Johnson. From 1885-1886 he worked as first mate on his brother's ship Bark Syra. When Jean Pattangall died from a fever in 1887, leaving behind a 1-year-old daughter, William retired from the sea and worked briefly as an accountant at the Keith Shoe Factory in Brockton, Massachusetts. After studying law and teaching school in Washington County from 1888-1893, William was admitted to the Maine Bar Association in 1893 and moved to Machias where he opened a law office and became active in the Democratic Party.

Shortly after Gertrude and William married, his election to the Maine state legislature in 1897 began a notable political career. William served three terms from 1897-98, 1901-1902, and 1909-1911 as a state legislator. From 1911-1913, he was the mayor of Waterville, Maine. Next, William served two terms from 1911-1912 and 1915-1916 as State Attorney General of Maine. In 1926, he was appointed to the Maine Supreme Court. He was Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court from 1930-1935. After serving on the Maine Supreme Court for 19 years, William retired at age 70 in 1935.

While they were raising four daughters (Katherine, Edith, Grace, and Josephine) at their home in Augusta, Gertrude and her husband became prominent leaders in Maine's Democratic Party during the early part of the 20th century. Gertrude Pattangall served on the National Democratic committee for nine years from 1919-1928. She was also an alternate to three Democratic National conventions. Similarly, William Pattangall was a member of the Maine Democratic State Committee in 1905 and a delegate to the 1920 and 1924 Democratic National Conventions. In 1916 and 1919 William was Maine Democratic State Chair. He ran unsuccessfully in 1904, 1913, and 1914 as a Democratic candidate for election to United States House of Representatives. In 1922 and 1924, William Pattangall was the Democratic candidate for the governor of Maine but lost both elections.

Both men and women in Maine supported the women's suffrage movement and one of these supporters was William Pattangall. When the Men's Equal Suffrage League was formed in May 1914, the new organization's leaders included President Robert Treat Whitehouse, husband of suffragist leader Florence Brooks Whitehouse, and Vice President William Pattangall. By 1915, there were almost 500 members of the Men's Equal Suffrage League. When the suffrage bill was debated at the House of Representatives on February 11, 1915, William Pattangall was one of the speakers who supported passage of the suffrage bill.

During these years, Gertrude became an outspoken advocate and leader for women's suffrage. In 1917, she was elected 1st Vice President of the Maine Equal Suffrage Association. When the suffrage bill was debated at the state legislature in Augusta on February 1, 1917, Gertrude and Mrs. H.W. Cobb led a delegation of 200 Augusta Equal Suffrage members carrying yellow banners, buttons, and "Votes for Women" streamers into the hall of the Maine House of Representatives where they joined other officers and members of the Maine Equal Suffrage Association. The women put a large basket of yellow jonquils with suffrage pledge cards on the speaker's desk and placed a large map of suffrage states with a large Maine Equal Suffrage Association banner on the right side of the speaker's desk. Pro-suffrage women sat at the right of the speaker's desk while anti-suffrage women sat at the left of the speaker's desk. On February 21, 1917, the suffrage bill passed the Maine House of Representatives by a vote of 113-35 but it was voted down 36,713 to 19,428 in a state-wide referendum that fall. When Governor Carl Millken signed Maine's resolution to hold a state referendum for suffrage on September 10, 1917, Gertrude attended the signing ceremony with six other women suffrage leaders.

After the suffrage bill failed at the state-wide referendum, Maine's suffrage leaders concentrated their efforts on passage of a national amendment. In 1919, Governor Milllken scheduled a special session of the Maine legislature to approve the 19th amendment. The Maine legislators approved the amendment by 72-68. When Governor Millken signed the bill ratifying the 19th Amendment in 1919, Gertrude attended the signing ceremony with five other women suffrage leaders.

During the ratification process of the 19th amendment, Gertrude Pattangall declared:

"The action of Tennessee appears to make sure that the women of Maine will vote in September. Of course I am pleased that it is so. And I may say that I am pleased not only from the standpoint of one who has worked for suffrage but also as one interested in Democracy...Women are not so partizan [sic] as men. They are going to study public questions and candidates and vote on their merits."

After passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Gertrude continued to be active in the Democratic Party as a hard-working member of the National Democratic Committee who traveled throughout Maine to speak at political events. In 1920, Gertrude was described as "one of the most active workers on this committee" and organized arrangements for women delegates to the Democratic state convention in Bangor, Maine. During the convention Gertrude manned "headquarters at the Bangor House" for women delegates and was described as "anxious to see a large delegation pf the women in sympathy with Democratic principles."

However, her dedication to the Democratic Party ended in 1928 because she was a fervent Prohibitionist. In 1925 Gertrude passionately declared:

"I am not a member of any temperance society. I have always been very liberal in my ideals, but prohibition at its worse is better than license at its best... I can never follow a political party that puts a wet plank in its platform or vote for a wet public official for any office... In my capacity of democratic national committee woman, I shall do all in my power to prevent the wet element from ever winning a single election."

Gertrude maintained her principles and resigned from the Democratic Party in 1928 when Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith opposed Prohibition. Her husband became equally disillusioned and resigned from the Democratic Party but they no longer shared a common political bond because Gertrude registered as an Independent while her husband registered as a Republican.

At age 77, William Robinson Pattangall died on October 21, 1942 in Augusta, Maine. After his death, Gertrude continued to be active in civic and state organizations and was a member of the Maine Federation of Women's Club, Maine Garden Club Federation, and Maine League of Women Voters. She died in Newton, Massachusetts at age 76 on March 8, 1950. An ardent suffragist, Gertrude Pattangall and her husband were prominent Democratic Party leaders in Maine during the early 20th century.

REFERENCES "Up and Down the Kennebec Valley: Maine Supreme Court Chief Justices From Kennebec Valley -- Part Two ," The Town Line Newspaper December 30, 2020., William Robinson Pattangall biography

Coe, Harrie B.: Maine Biographies, Volume 1, Clearfield Publishing Company Baltimore, Maryland 2011 pp. 423-424. Greenwood, Isabel, "Maine Women Suffrage Association Correspondence, Folder 1, Greenwood Papers, Box 540 Folder 58 (1917) University of Main Digital Commons

"Suffrage in Maine," BHHS Newsletter, Fall 2020; accessible online at

"They Petitioned, They Protested, They Went to Jail and They Won," The Free Press, January 27, 2019. Accessible online at

"Was Suffrage Day at the State House," The Bangor Daily News, February 12, 1915 p. 3.

"Suffrage News Letter," The Bangor Daily News, March 3, 1915 p. 5.

"Suffragists Make Vigorous Appeal," The Bangor Daily News, February 2, 1917 p. 1.

"The Suffrage Resolve," The Republican Journal March 1, 1917 p. 6.

"Democrats Will Meet Here Next," The Bangor Daily News, March 27, 1920, p. 1.

"Mrs. Wm. Pattangall," The Bangor Daily News, August 20, 1920, p. 1.

"Prohibition at Its Worst Better Than License at Its Best Says Gertrude M. Pattangall," The Bangor Daily News, December 30, 1925 p. 1.

"Mrs. Pattangall Not Candidate," The Bangor Daily New, March 27, 1928 p. 7.

"Mrs. Pattangall, Chief Justice's Widow, Dead, The Bangor Daily News," The Bangor Daily News, March 8, 1950, p.1.

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