Penacook New Hampshire’s First Female Legislator, Physician, Educator and Civic Leader: Mary Louise (Rolfe) Farnum (1870-1965)

Nineteen hundred and twenty was a landmark year for the women of New Hampshire.  The 19th Amendment, which granted women’s suffrage (the right to vote) nationwide in 1920, was ratified. New Hampshire ratified the amendment on September 10, 1919, but national ratification was not Dr. Mary L. (Rolfe) Farnumcompleted until August 18, 1920.

By that time, it was too late for them to file for that year’s New Hampshire elections. That did not stop two women–Dr. Mary Louise (Rolfe) Farnum, and Jessie Doe. Within a few weeks of the passage of the 19th amendment, these two women had commenced write-in campaigns in the primary election, and went on to win New Hampshire House seats. Questions arose whether they had the right to hold office, and though their right was supported by the majority with a referendum, it did not receive a two-thirds requirement (but that point was apparently ignored).

According to the Boston Herald newspaper dated December 12, 1920 on the recent election of women legislators in New Hampshire, “What adds to the interest in Dr. Farnum’s case is that she is a member of the Democratic party and ran on the Democratic ticket. And, as if that were not a sufficient handicap in a town which

Boston Herald headlines of December 12, 1920

Boston Herald headlines of December 12, 1920

habitually votes about three to two Republican, she was opposed by Edward Webster, a prominent Republican, who has been in the limelight for years, and who had the official party backing for the House. It is a great tribute to Dr. Farnum’s popularity and the general esteem in which she is held in the district that the voters cast aside personal and political considerations and elected her by a decisive majority. The vote was 264 to 27, to be exact. “I am not enjoying this publicity very much,” said Dr. Farnum to a representative of the Sunday Herald, when asked for her photograph, “but I feel that I owe it to the women to comply with requests like this, for I represent women and the personal part is left out.”

Dr. Mary (Rolfe) Farnum was a 50-year old widow, physician, and greatly active within the communities of Penacook and Boscawen. While a member of the legislature representing the town of Boscawen, she served on the Normal School and Public Health committees.  She addressed the House in support of the Factory Inspection bill and in opposition to the Manchester Normal School bill. Dr. Farnum did not run for office again in 1922, but by then there were other women anxious to fill her shoes. [Editor’s note: The Boston Herald of December 10, 1922 seems to contradict this in an article written about Dr. Farnum: “Of the last house, Mrs. Mary Rolfe Farnum of Boscawen, Democrat, voted against the 48- hour law, one of the cardinal tenets of Democratic faith in New Hampshire nowadays, and was defeated for re-election.]

Mary (Rolfe) Farnum was the daughter of Charles M. and Maria (Morrison) Rolfe, and was born in Fisherville (Penacook), Merrimack County, New Hampshire on February 10, 1870 [Her birth was ‘reported’ in Boscawen NH].  She attended the local village schools, and Concord High School, graduating in 1888. She then  taught for three years in the schools of Boscawen and Penacook. On Sept. 15, 1892, she married Samuel H. Farnum of Penacook, who died less than a year later, on June 13, 1893 at the age of 25 in Concord NH (Penacook) of chronic Brights Disease. He had been born in Concord, NH, son of Isaac H. & Ellen F. (Lougee) Farnum.  He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. (She was buried there also at her death on 9 February 1956). They had no children, and she never remarried.

As a young widow,  Mrs. Farnum entered the Boston University School of Medicine, receiving the degree of M.D. in 1900. After graduation she served as an intern for six months in Boston, MA, and six more months at the Memorial Hospital for Women and Children in Brooklyn, N. Y.  Then Dr. Farnum began practicing medicine in Hartford, Connecticut.  (In 1902 and 1903 the Hartford directory shows Dr. Farnum residing at 11 Capitol Avenue).

The Boscawen history book goes on to state that “the failing health of her parents required her return to Penacook where she practiced (medicine) for a time, but the increased demand of home duties required the relinquishing of professional work. After faithfully caring for her parents until the close of their lives, she purchased a home in ward 1, Concord, where she now resides.”  The 1910 and 1920 United States Censuses show her living with her father, Charles M. Rolfe.  Her father died in 1928 at the age of 86 years. By 1930 Dr. Rolfe was living at 45 Water Street in Boscawen. From 1932-1959 she was living at 46 Spring Street in Penacook.  In 1961 she was living at the McKerley nursing in Penacook. By 1962 she had removed to 282 South Main Street in Concord, where she was probably living when she died in 1965, at the advanced age of 95 years.

Dr. Farnum was civic minded and active in the Boscawen and Penacook communities. Her energy seems endless, as the list of her involvements is extensive.  According to the History of Boscawen, she was a member of the Congregational Church; Priscilla Chapter, Dr Mary R L Farnum from Granite Monthly watermark(J. E. S.); Hannah Dustin Rebekah Lodge; a member of the Penacook Woman’s Club; member of the Concord Woman’s Club, serving as president; Concord Woman’s College Club, serving as president; a member of the School Board for five years; American Association of University Women, and chairman of the Penacook Red Cross during the World War (unsure of which one since she lived through two, but probably WWI).  In 1898 she was a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Six years after Dr. Farnum’s death, she along with other New Hampshire women legislators was honored.  According to an article in the April 8, 1971 Nashua Telegraph“The New Hampshire legislature had paid homage to its women members on the 50th anniversary of their liberation at the ballot box….Resolutions were approved honoring the women legislators, who throughout the 50 years have compiled an aggregate total of more than three centuries of service in the House and Senate. Legislative Historian Leon Anderson extolled the ladies, noting that 50 years ago Democrat Mary Louise Rolfe Farnum of Boscawen and Republican Jessie Doe of Rollinsford broke the male barrier by winning seats in the House. Rep. Hilda Brungot, R-Berlin, who at 84 is serving her 18th term, said at the ceremonies that she will seek her 19th “if God gives me health.”

I think that Dr. Farnum would have been honored by these accolades, but I also wonder how she would want us to remember her.  She was a woman ahead of her time, dedicated to improving her community, and endlessly active to that end.  She was devoted to her family, caring for her father until the end of his life. Left a young widow, she because proficient in a then very male dominated profession.  And yes, she was a legislator too, at a time when it there were many impediments to being elected.  Thank you for paving the way for New Hampshire women, and for acting as an incredible role model, Dr. Farnum!

—– G E N E A L O G Y of Mary Louise (Rolfe) Farnum —–

Henry-1 & Honour (Rolfe) Rolfe of England & Newbury, Massachusetts [see this link Capt Henry Rolfefor more detail on descendants to Capt. Nathaniel-7].
Benjamin-2 & Apphia (Hale) Rolfe
Henry-3 & Anna (Tappan) Rolfe
Nathaniel-4 & Hannah (Rolfe) Rolfe
Nathaniel-5 & Judith (Walker) Rolfe
Henry-6 & Deborah (Carter) Rolfe [first purchased land in NH]

Capt. Nathaniel-7 Rolfe, son of Henry & Deborah (Carter) Capt Nathaniel RolfeRolfe, was born on 1 January 1814 in Concord, Merrimack, New Hampshire, and d 26 Apr 1900 in Concord NH. He married Mary Jane Moody,  daughter of Joseph & Hannah (Foster) Moody, on 1 January 1839 in Concord NH.  She was b. 21 January 1817 in Canterbury NH and died 8 August 1876 in Concord NH. Some of his reminiscences of Penacook can be found in the history.
Children of Nathaniel & Mary Jane (Moody) Rolfe:
+ 1. Charles Moody Rolfe was born on 18 August 1841 in Concord, Merrimack, New Hampshire.
2. Joseph Henry Rolfe, b. 1 March 1843 in Concord NH; a NH Sharpshooter during the Civil War. Later a resident of Minneapolis MN dealing in real estate and operating a plan for the manufacture of dredging machines.
3. Abial/Abiel Walker Rolfe was born on 21 January 1844 in Concord, Merrimack, New Hampshire, and d. 24 Feb 1926 in Penacook NH. He was the grandfather of Abial “Red” Rolfe, “The Pride of Penacook”, baseball player (third base) with the New York Yankees.
4. John Holmes Rolfe was born on 1 October 1847 in Concord, Merrimack, New Hampshire, and died 22 Jan 1929 in Concord, NH.
5. Mary Lancaster Rolfe was born on 3 October 1852 in Concord, Merrimack, New Hampshire.; died at age 9
6. Arthur Foster Rolfe, b. 2 July 1858 in Concord NH, died 13 Feb 1946 in Hampton Falls, Rockingham Co. NH. He married 2 Jun 1883 in Lowell MA to Catherine Elsa Morrison, daughter of Leonard & Sally (Cole) Morrison.  She was b. abt 1856 in Boscawen NH.

———- N E X T     G E N E R A T I O N ———-

Charles Moody-8 Rolfe, eldest son of Capt. Nathaniel and Mary J. (Moody) Rolfe, and lineal descendant in the fifth generation from Henry Rolfe, one of the original proprietors of Charles Moody RolfeConcord, was born in Penacook, Merrimack Co. NH on August 18, 1841, and died 16 September 1927 in Boscawen NH.  He married 3 February 1869 in Fisherville (Concord) NH to Maria L. Morrison., daughter of Leonard & Sally (Cole) Morrison. She was born 10 February 1839 in Boscawen NH and died 7 April 1907 in Boscawen NH.

According to the History of Penacook, “His education was obtained in the village schools, common and high, and at the close of his school days he was employed in the manufacture of doors, sash, and blinds in the shops of his father. After his father’s company had retired from the business, in 1866 Charles formed a new company with his brother Abial, the firm name being C. M. & A. W. Rolfe, and the line of goods which they manufactured was the same as made by the older firm in which their father was manager. The new firm leased shops and sawmill on Water street, where they operated for several years, and then moved Rolfe's Sash and Door Manufactoryback to the Concord side of the river, locating on Merrimack street, using a portion of the original Rolfe estate. Mr. Rolfe has found an increasing business from year to year, and employed some fifty or more men, using about two million feet of pine lumber annually. Mr. Rolfe married Miss Maria L. Morrison, and has three sons, — Harlow, Henry, and Ben, — and one daughter, Mrs. Dr. Mary Farnum. Mr. Rolfe, like his father, is a strong Democrat in politics, and a member of the Congregational church. He is also a member of the I. O. O. F. and of Dustin Island lodge, P. of H.”
1880 US Census > NH > Merrimack > Boscawen
Rolfe, Charles M. W 38 Manufacturer of Sash & Blind NH NH NH
Rolfe, Maria L. W F 40 wife keeping house NH NH NH
Rolfe, Mary L. W F 14 daughter at school NH NH NH
Rolfe, Harlow F. W M 8 son at school NH NH NH
Rolfe, Henry C. W M 5 son NH NH NH
Rolfe, Ben M.  W M 3 son NH NH NH
Morrill, Susan E. W F 19 servant maid NH MA NH
Children of Charles Moody & Maria L. (Morrison) Rolfe:
1. +Mary Louise-9 Rolfe, born 10 Feb 1870 at Fisherville (Penacook), Merrimack Co. NH.  Birth reported at Boscawen NH; m. Samuel H. Farnum [see her biography above, she is the subject of this blog post]. They had no children
2. +Harlow Foster Rolfe, b. 4 Dec 1871 Boscawen NH, d. December 1964 NH
3. +Henry Chandler Rolfe, b. 22 Dec 1874 Boscawen NH; He died 5 Dec 1945 NH
4. Ben Morrison Rolfe, died 26 June 1902 in Boscawen NH, age 26 of pneumonia and typhoid fever.

———- N E X T     G E N E R A T I O N ———-

Harlow Foster-9 Rolfe, son of Charles M. & Maria L. (Morrison) Rolfe, b. 4 Dec 1871 Boscawen NH, d. December 1964 NH; res. Penacook, NH. He m. 19 June 1901 in Concord NH to Harriet May Smith, daughter of Dudley F. & Lydia F. (Prescott) Smith. She b. 28 Aug 1876 in Gilmanton, Belknap Co. NH , and d. Oct 1972 in Merrimack Co. NH.
OBITUARY: Longtime UCLA Dean Franklin P. Rolfe, 82 — August 05, 1985
Franklin P. Rolfe, the veteran dean for whom UCLA’s English Department building is named, is dead at 82. He died July 26 in a convalescent home in Scituate, Mass., where he had recently moved. Rolfe, a leading scholar of 17th-Century fiction and Victorian-era literature, joined UCLA’s embryonic English faculty in 1932, a year after he received his doctorate from Harvard. He was dean of humanities from 1947 to 1961 and then dean of the College of Letters and Sciences until his retirement in 1970.
Child of Harlow F. & Harriet M. (Smith) Rolfe:
1. Franklin Prescott Rolfe, b. 15 Nov 1902 in NH and d. 26 July 1985 in Scituate MA. Professor (Stanford Univ Cal), Chairman of English Dept Univ of Cal, and Dean of Humanities in the College of Letters and Science. He graduated from Dartmouth College (1924) and Harvard College (Ph.D). In 1940 they were residing in Los Angeles, California, at 134 S. Anita Ave. He married 20 June 1931 [per Boston Herald marriage announcement] to Katharine Lillias Taylor, daughter of  Dr. Westford M. & Jane  A. “Jennie” (MacLeod) Taylor.  She was b. 3 March 1904 in Boston MA and d. December 1978 in Los Angeles California.

Henry Chandler-9 Rolfe, son of Charles M. & Maria L. (Morrison) Rolfe, b. 22 Dec 1874 Boscawen NH; He died 5 Dec 1945 NH; resided  Penacook; he m. 27 Sep 1906 in Penacook NH to Katharine Lorette Graves, dau of Eli Edwin & Martha A. (Williams) Graves. She was b. 17 March 1880 in Boscawen NH, and died 27 November 1966 in Concord, NH [per probate index card].
Children of Henry C. & Katharine L. (Graves) Rolfe:
1. Norman Chandler Rolfe b 22 Feb 1909 in Concord NH
2. Benjamin Curtis Rolfe, b. 1 March 1916 in Concord NH, d. 23-24 Jan 2000, age 83 in Laconia, Belknap Co. NH. In 1945 he was married, had 4 yrs of college, occupation, carpenter.

—– Additional Reading —— First Women in the NH Legislature

Women Wielding Power: Pioneer State Legislators (NH)

Penacook NH: Rolfe Homestead Historic District – PDF

The Penacook Historical Society

 —– Sources ——
FamilySearch: births, marriages, deaths, probate records.
History Boscawen-Webster Fifty Years 1883-1933, compiled by Willis G. Buxton; W.B. Ranney, Penacook N.H., 1933.
The history of Penacook, N.H., from its first settlement in 1734 up to 1900, compiled by David Arthur Brown; published 1902 by Rumford Press in Concord, N.H .
– The Granite monthly, a New Hampshire magazine, devoted to literature, history, and state progress (Volume 53)
The Joseph Kimball Family: a Genealogical Memoir of the Ascendants and Descendants of Joseph Kimball of Canterbury, N. H.: Ten Generations: 1634-1885 (Google eBook); Republican Press association, 1885, page 86
– assorted newspaper clippings.
Women Wielding Power web site

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11 Responses to Penacook New Hampshire’s First Female Legislator, Physician, Educator and Civic Leader: Mary Louise (Rolfe) Farnum (1870-1965)

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  7. This is fabulous. Thank you!

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