A new look at the Mission’s History

by | Aug 10, 2023 | News

Since its founding in 1905, Maine Seacoast Mission has faithfully served the residents of Maine’s coast and outer islands. When founded as Maine Sea Coast Missionary Society, its goal was “to sail a sloop…from Kittery Point to Quoddy Head, in all kinds of weather [and]…call on families on isolated islands, visit the lightkeepers and the lifesaving stations.” 

Over the past eighteen months, the Mission has begun digitizing its historical records and photography. Previously, these objects and materials were organized, inventoried, and stored in archival-safe boxes and binders on the third floor of the Mission’s previous Bar Harbor home, La Rochelle. Digitizing materials preserves fragile documents and permits access without causing damage to items. In addition, materials become available to the public for research and inclusion in exhibitions. 

The Mission now has a history timeline on the website, which provides insight into programming and highlights organizational milestones. For instance, education and togetherness have been an important value in Mission programming. The Christmas Program has been a part of the lives of Downeast and Island residents for more than 100 years when the first presents were given to children attending the Sea Coast Sunday School in 1908. Scholarships were first gifted to two young island women in 1911 so they could continue their high school education. Today, more than $3 million in scholarships have been awarded. The Mission’s first nurse joined the staff in 1920 and continued to provide care until the mid-1940s. The timeline also includes each of the boats, from Hope and Morning Star, to each of the five Sunbeam vessels.  

This look back into our history unearthed some hidden knowledge. While many know how Angus and Alexander MacDonald founded the Mission in 1905, some of the first Mission employees were women. The first hired missionary was Rev. Hannah Powell in 1910 and her role was to conduct religious services, but she was also instrumental in educating children. In the 1912 Annual Report, it notes that on Frenchboro she “opened and reorganized the school.” Powell was also a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority which helped cultivate a partnership that continues to this day. The first permanent, year-round member of the Mission staff was Alice “Ma” Peasley. “Ma,” as she was known for her 36 years at the Mission, was responsible for the Hooked Rug program, which was one of the Mission’s first programs designed to allow people to support themselves.  

The timeline also highlights a few other notable employees. This includes Neal Bousfield, who served as superintendent for 34 years during the Depression and World Wars as well as Ruth Roades Lepper, who was hired as a Mission artist. It also features information on Edith Drury, who brought the Mission to national prominence through her writing of “God’s Tugboat” for Maine Coast Fisherman magazine and National Fisherman magazine. 

By the early 1960s, the Mission started focusing on its work Downeast in earnest, which led to the starting of education programs on the Cherryfield campus in the 1970s and the food pantry by the late 1980s.  

By the early 2000s, the Island Health program started on the Sunbeam and EdGE began on the Downeast campus. Both of these initiatives have become synonymous with the Mission today. And the Mission continues to meet the needs of the community today with the launch of the Davis Maine Scholarship program in 2019 and its efforts to vaccinate islanders in 2021.  

Check out the timeline and read more about our work digitizing our archives.  

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