During the first thirty years of the twentieth century, fisherwoman Maggie Little was the most photographed person in Newport, VT, on Lake Memphremagog.
She was most certainly one of Newport’s best known residents. Maggie was born in Bolton, Quebec, on November 12, 1842. Her parents moved to a farm in the USA when she was very young. At barely five feet tall, she didn’t have the stamina for farm work. She loved fishing though and enjoyed an independent lifestyle. Perhaps for these reasons, she left the farm early to relocate to Newport.
People could say many things about Little, but they surely couldn’t call her camera shy. She was a woman of many hats. She never went to school and was considered a vagrant. Her favorite fishing spot was on the Canadian Pacific railway bridge. She always wore the same clothes: a long skirt with an apron over it that was perpetually in need of washing. Even though she was constantly near the water it obviously wasn’t to do her laundry.
And truth be told, fishing is not the passion of a perfumer.
Perched on a barrel, always at the same place, she would fish from morning until night, pipe clamped in her teeth. Folks getting off the train would walk her way to take her picture, as she was only a few hundred feet from the station.
Maggie was a compulsive smoker, and would often demand a handout to feed her habit before posing.
When she ran out of tobacco, she was even known to split a cord of wood to earn money for more. It seems she was a victim of tobacco addiction and it was her overriding obsession. She sold the fish she caught to feed her habit. If a pipe smoker was around, she would pretend she didn’t have any tobacco. Few walked away without giving her a pipeful. Maggie always lived the life of a recluse. She liked to drink beer from a bottle and was fond of the illegal hooch made by W.H. Darling & Son, who legally made soda pop.
Maggie died in 1934, at 91, and could certainly have starred in commercials for the tobacco companies. She did come from long-lived stock, though; her mother predeceased her in 1927 at 103 years old. A lot of water will run under the railway bridge in Newport before there will be the likes of Maggie Little again?
Update by Scott Wheeler March 2022
Although an eccentric little pipe smoking lady, Little was a beloved fixture in the lakeside community. It has been said she was the most photographed person in the history of the community.
When she died on February 4, 1934, she was living on the city’s poor farm on what is now the City Farm Road in Newport Center. Her death brought with it much sadness among people from all walks of life.
Among her pallbearers was Frank Burns, who served in city government, including as its mayor in 1931 and 1932.
The following article is from the February 9, 1934, issue of the Express and Standard:
Maggie Little, 91 Years Old, Dead
Familiar Figure About the City Many Years Died of Pneumonia
Maggie is buried in the East Main Street Cemetery in Newport.
The death of Maggie Little Monday morning following a brief illness with pneumonia removed from Newport circles a figure outstanding because of her peculiar character and habits. Due to her unusual traits and costume, she became known far and near, and was ofttimes referred to as
Little by name, and little in stature, she roamed about, a happy-go-lucky person, at home wherever she hung her cap, as she was seldom seen wearing a hat. Maggie needed no introduction, as she chatted as freely with strangers as with those well known to her. She enjoyed her “pip,” and spent much of her time fishing and in a quiet smoke.
No other resident was caught as often by a camera as was Maggie, and she enjoyed posing for the stranger, as well as for friends. Household duties never caused her to worry, as she preferred the more arduous tasks of sawing wood. She resorted to several other means of earning a few pennies to supply her with smoking tobacco. Her photographs were in good demand, and she solicited sales of postcards.
Maggie was a real friend to those who befriended her, but woe be to him who crossed her. A shining dollar given to many would not bring one half the appreciation that would a nickel given to Maggie.
There has always been some uncertainty relative to her age, and the best information available places it at 91 years.
Courtesy of Scott Wheeler of Vermont’s Northland Journal