Maine’s oldest awards recognizing women’s achievements turned 50 recently with a ceremony, when four honorees joined the likes of Margaret Chase Smith and Joan Benoit Samuelson as members of University of New England’s Deborah Morton Society.
The first Deborah Morton awards were given out in 1961 at what was then Westbrook College. The awards represented another breakthrough in the storied press for gender equality by leaders at the school, which was an all-women postsecondary institution from 1925 to 1973. Over the groundbreaking honor society’s 50 years, 185 women have been inducted for their career achievements and social work.
“The vision that created this [society] for Maine women was truly something special,” said UNE President Danielle Ripich. “To do this in Maine really says something because Maine is full of outstanding women.”
The awards are named for a Round Pond woman who graduated valedictorian of the 1879 class at Westbrook Seminary — later Westbrook College and, in 1996, part of the larger UNE — and went on to serve in a variety of roles for the school for more than 60 years.
Among past inductees into the Deborah Morton Society are both current U.S. senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins; author May Sarton, internationally known artist Dahlov Ipcar, federal attorney Paula Silsby, Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Leigh Saufley and former Maine first lady Mary Herman.
Joining that group Tuesday in a ceremony held in the Eleanor DeWolfe Ludcke Auditorium on UNE’s Portland campus were:
• Donna M. Loring, whose 12 years representing the Penobscot Indian Nation in the Legislature included the 2001 passage of a law requiring Maine schools to teach “Native American History and Culture.” Loring, a Vietnam veteran, was the first female graduate of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to become a police chief. In 2008, she published “In the Shadow of the Eagle: A Tribal Representative in Maine,” a book about her time as a tribal representative in the Legislature.
• Gail Kelly, a two-term Brewer mayor and longtime Snowe staff member, who used her own diagnosis of having multiple sclerosis as motivation to launch into what a UNE biography describes as “tireless” advocacy and fundraising for M.S. awareness and research. Kelly serves on the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce and has received the Brewer Citizen of the Year Award as well as the John Joseph Moakley Award for Exemplary Public Service.
• Kaye Flanagan, who went from a career in psychiatric nursing to a life of public service in Portland and Augusta. Flanagan worked as director of the Holy Innocents Home Care Service and sat on the boards of Maine Medical Center, the Kennebec Valley United Way and The Children’s Center. In the latter role, she spearheaded a drive to raise $1.4 million to build a new state-of-the-art facility for children with special needs.
• Lynn Kraemer Goldfarb, the first woman vice president of Central Maine Power Co., who went on to establish the international energy consulting firm L.K. Goldfarb Associates and be recognized for her work by the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York Stock Exchange. She also is an active volunteer for the American Heart Association and the National Council of Jewish Women, among other board appointments and civic obligations.
In her remarks, Loring acknowledged that “the 50th year [for the society] is very special.”
She touted what she called a “Wabanaki Renaissance,” an explosion of art, poetry and other creative works from an Indian population that “was silenced for almost two centuries.”
Her law teaching Indian history in Maine schools helped the tribal populations regain their “voice,” she said.