Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Portland women’s history gets its own app made by Professor

Krysteana Scribner | The Free Press

Posted on September 21, 2015 in News, Uncategorized
By USM Free Press

By Brian Gordon / Free Press Staff

Walking through town you’re liable to spot plaques on old buildings. Why’s that there? Who’s Lily Stephens? Now there’s an app for that. It’s called the Portland Women’s History Trail and it was created here at USM.

History professor, Eileen Eagan, and her students took what once was a 20 year old booklet of historic sites involving women across Portland and made it into a foot-friendly walkabout town that you can follow along with your smart phone. She thought it was time for our city to have it’s own history trail. USM received a grant from Maine Economic Improvement Fund.

“Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia all have history walking trails, it’s a good way to bring history alive,” Eagan said. “The idea is to get people out looking at sights and to feel what it felt like to be the people who were living there.”

There’s Portland history walking trails but none of them focus mainly on women.

“Half the people in the city have been women and their history is important,” said Eagan.

The professor would love to see more statues of working people, men and women on the many fishing piers or a worker in a cannery or at the old chewing gum factory, which is now Hub Furniture on Fore St.

Working class women’s history is not always talked about, Eagan says, but as some of the sights show, women endured terrible conditions and did jobs just as hard as men.

The Portland Star Match Company on West Commercial St. was home to many Irish-American women workers who contracted phosphorus poisoning, which was a disease that ate away part of their jaw. They worked in these terrible conditions from 1870 to 1908 earning wages that averaged $5 a week.

Eagan is quick to point out the tour does include some notable men as well, such as Thomas Brackett Reed, whose visage looks out on the Western Promenade. Reed was an advocate for women’s suffrage and also an anti-imperialist, Eagan adds.

Hans Neilson, a junior art major, helped on the project by going out and photographing the sites, so viewers online would get a feel for it.

Women in Portland have occupied roles from Mayor of the city to the fishing industry on Commercial St.,” Neilson said. “I think the app shows that women haven’t always occupied the stereotypical roles that we often think of.”

Neilson’s favorite site on the walking trail is the Abyssinian Meeting House on Newbury St.

“I think it stood out to me because of its role in the underground railroad and also that it managed to not get burned down during the fire of 1866,” he said.

Another student who helped work on the app was senior history major, Tracey Berube. She was interested in the Eastern Cemetery because she has relatives buried there from colonial times. Berube said the app is important because it is “a readily accessible way to convey the history of women in Portland to visitors and to give these women a voice that they did not have before.”

The collaborative effort by staff and students left a mark on Professor Egan.

“I was really impressed by the work the students did and the faculty working together was really fun and productive,” Eagan said. “It also couldn’t have been done without the help of Stephen Hauser,” who was the executive director of computer services on campus. Hauser wrote the code to make the app actually work while Eagan and her students handled the history and artistic aspect of the app.

The app is free to download or if you don’t have a smart phone you can go to  http://pmwht.org on your computer to check out the trail.