D-F historical society exhibit to focus on Mary Elizabeth Greeley

By Mary Annis
Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society President

lo-greeleymug-dcX-po-25    This year the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society will be setting up an exhibit in the front room of the Observer Building Museum, featuring the works of Miss Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Greeley. The exhibit will be open beginning on Whoopie Pie Day – June 22 — and will be available every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Labor Day. Many of her paintings will be on display along with several personal artifacts.


    Greeley was born in Foxcroft on Feb. 13, 1836. Her parents were Samuel and Sarah (Chamberlain) Greeley. Her father came to Foxcroft in 1808 and her mother was the first white girl born in the town. Greeley was educated in Foxcroft schools and graduated from Foxcroft Academy. She then attended Gilmantown Academy in Belknap County, N.H., where her father was born.
    Greeley began her teaching career in her hometown as assistant in the village school. There were only two schools in the village of Foxcroft, one for primary pupils and one for older pupils. Miss Greeley and Sara H. Carter taught the 90 pupils in one large room and one tiny one. Greeley went on to teach in many other towns in Maine, and, although very successful in her teaching, she was looking for something more. 
    Greeley set off to Boston to attend Dr. Diocletian Lewis’ school of calisthenics. Dr. Lewis was a prominent temperance leader and physical exercise advocate for women. This was quite an undertaking for a single lady of the era. Dr. Lewis’ school was located in Lexington, Mass. from 1864 to 1867 when it burned. Following her studies in Boston Greeley went to New York City to teach in a school founded by one of Dr. Lewis’ pupils. Her students enjoyed learning from her.  On display at the museum are miniature barbells and rings presented to Greeley in 1866 by members of her class.
    She had a longing to draw and to paint. As Greeley earned money she began to study art. With her customary energy, she threw herself into this new and most fascinating line of work while continuing to earn respect as a teacher of physical exercise. She finally was offered a position as art teacher in Dr. West’s School for Girls, one of the most exclusive private schools in Brooklyn. She taught there for 13 years. At one time she had a studio in Brooklyn where she attained a reputation as a portrait painter.
    As her mother began to advance in years and her own health began to fail, Greeley gave up her studio and returned to her mother’s home in 1885. She remained in Foxcroft the rest of her life. When her health began to improve, her mother needed her care and after her mother passed away, Greeley felt that at 50 she was too old to return to the city.
    Now alone in her home on West Main Street, Greeley rented part of her home and began instructing private pupils from the area. During these years she painted excellent portraits of local people and lovely pictures of flowers, fruit and animals. At the age of 74 she was commissioned by Dr. Thompson to paint portraits of himself and his wife. As Mrs. Thompson was deceased, Greeley painted her portrait from a photograph. Dr. Thompson thought his wife’s image was too severe, so he asked Lizzie to “pretty up” the portrait, which she did by adding a very lacy fichu to enhance her plain gown. These paintings hang in the Maine Room at the Thompson Free Library.
    At the age of 80, Greeley was still teaching, but soon after, failing eyesight compelled her to give up on her work. She fell in her home in December of 1924 and fractured her hip. She died three weeks later on Dec. 31, 1924. Greeley’s funeral was held at the Congregational Church where she had attended services faithfully for many years. She is buried in the family plot in the Rural Grove Cemetery.
    Greeley was a very active and talented person. It was with bravery and determination that she left the small village of Foxcroft and set off to Boston and New York City to have a successful career in two very unusual professions – gymnastic exercises and painting. But Greeley was more than a teacher and artist.  She was very interested in the town’s activities, and when the right to vote was given to women, Greeley, the daughter of the first female white child to be born in Foxcroft, at the age of 84, cast the first vote on that election day in 1920.
    Greeley had a great interest in all her pupils. Besides teaching them to use the many techniques used in drawing and painting, she showed them the beauty in common things and the character which shines in wrinkled faces and gnarled hands. She taught them to work hard and to love their work.
    This article is based on Mary Elizabeth Greeley’s obituary and an article written by Madelyn C. Betts.

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