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mischievous. Her chin suggests the strength Ned Gordon spoke of at the dedication of her His- torical Marker in 2021 when he called her a “strong woman.” Maude’s choice of attire (the late Edwardian dress) affirms that strength as well as dignity. How- ever, it is not without allure. She has chosen a neckline that reveals her shoulders while demurely resting slightly above any sugges- tion of cleavage.
Another photograph taken perhaps two decades later, in the year of her death, reveals not only the physical aging of pass- ing years but of a psyche being transformed. At 49, she is still an attractive woman, but the allure and apparent anticipation of repartee, so evident in the earlier photo, are gone. Her eyes remain arresting but are set in a face taut and fixed, like the granite of the state she loved. Her hair no lon- ger suggests hours of careful styl- ing. One might call it “natural.” Her attire understates the femi- ninity so purposefully displayed in the picture of her as a young woman. Maude appears alert but not particularly happy. Perhaps one might surmise that she is al- ready thinking about ending her life, a life filled with the agonizing experience of terminal cancer.
I have been wondering how this historic Bristol native, first woman to be elected to the New
Hampshire Senate, would fare in this year’s elections. What would be her fate if she were magically with us today? Would she be a formidable candidate? If she, once again, suffered from termi- nal cancer, would she be able to access death with dignity in New Hampshire?
We need to revisit some of Maude’s legislative records and the values she embraced in her brief tenure in the 1931 session of the State Senate to get a sense of how she might have reacted to current issues. Although nom- inally a Republican, she might be considered a progressive as the first woman to challenge male dominance in the Senate cham- ber.
Often in the political middle, she helped to move what she con- sidered the worthy agenda items of both major political parties. Maude championed the natural environment of New Hamp- shire, leading the fight to protect the state’s wildflowers and to safe- guard its forests from overlogging
and fires. She was a strong advocate for generous funding of education and took a special interest in developing “normal” schools for the training of teach- ers. Maude supported investment
Maude Ferguson
in the infrastructure, including hydroelectric plants, to “alleviate unemployment.” Most obviously, she was a champion of wom- en’s rights. Her core values grew out of her commitment to the League of Women Voters and her churches, two of them, the Episcopal Church and the Con- gregational Church. (Now affili- ated with the United Church of Christ). Legally, a congregant of the former, she seems to have in- vested more of her time with the Congregational Church. Among other activities, she taught Sun- day School in that denomination.
As a result of her commit- ment decades ago to the val- ues espoused by those churches mentioned above, as well as the
League of Women Voters, I think it’s worthwhile to take a look at the present-day perspectives shared by those organizations. The LWV is progressive. It ad- vocates for a woman’s “right to choose” concerning abortion. It favors more strict gun control and promotes legislation to ad- dress global warming. It supports assurances of voting rights and a liberalization of voting registra- tion practices. It has worked to ensure a society that is inclusive of and equitable for all races, ethnicities, and creeds. In this regard, It champions the rights of the LBGTQ community and endorses gay marriage. Both the Episcopal Church and the Congregational (United Church of Christ) share social doctrines that are liberal and close to the positions taken by the League, although there is some inconsis- tency in each church’s implemen- tation of these positions.
Given her historic role and the lodestars of her values, it seems to me at least plausible that Maude would have been in step with some of the social policies mentioned above. However, one might argue that Maude’s values would not have remained aligned with those of today’s LWV, the Episcopal Church, or the United Church of Christ. We simply don’t know.
There are, nonetheless, clear qualifications, even a desirability, for her candidacy. First, Maude believed in the importance of building coalitions. Her candi- dacy for the state senate in 1930 secured the endorsement of both the Republican and Demo- cratic parties...imagine that. She worked effectively at reconciling different perspectives, a skill so desperately needed these days. She would be a formidable can- didate. Her public speeches, al- though infrequent,
were cheerfully anticipated as she was a professional elocution-
ist and understood the appeal of brevity. She had an insight about when enough has been said, as at- tested to by her record of success- fully making the most motions for adjournment in the 1931 session of the State Senate.
Maude Ferguson was clear and determined about her per- sonal adjournment as well. This, I think, was admirable. The ini- tial public response to her suicide was shocking, and then came ef- forts to rationalize what is right- fully regarded as a tragic and reproachable act. Comments like, “She must have been deeply de- pressed to the point of insanity... she was out of her mind, etc.” were frequent. However, there is a very different explanation. One that I think is more persuasive. As a strong, proud woman who overcame conventional bound- aries, it makes sense to me that, with a clear mind, she would not be reticent to once again test the limits of conventional mores and act decisively, dramatically, espe- cially when she was being robbed of her autonomy and her dig- nity. Her decision to end her life might well have been a personal affirmation that she had the right, even the responsibility, to control the fate of her own body.
Perhaps others in the tragic circumstance of facing a pain- ful, terminal disease in New Hampshire might someday, in the future, experience the relief of physician-assisted life-ending relief. Perhaps New Hampshire’s legislature will not remain silent on this issue and pass a relevant bill. Perhaps it will be called the Maude Ferguson “Death With Dignity” Act. This would be more truly aimed than a bullet from a revolver.
Thanks to the Bristol Histori- cal Society for research assistance. Thanks to Representative Ned Gordon for his work to reawaken our awareness of Maude’s mem-
orable life.
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