Lucy Nicolar was born June 22, 1882, on Indian Island, Maine, the daughter of Joseph Nicolar and Elizabeth Joseph. Every summer, her family traveled to the resort town of Kennebunkport to sell baskets. Lucy and her sister performed in Indian dress for the tourists. In her late teens she started performing at public events such as sportsman’s shows.
During those performances, she came to the attention of a Harvard administrator who hired her as his assistant. He took her into his household and gave her musical and educational opportunities in Boston and New York. In 1905, she married a doctor and moved to Washington, D.C. Eight years later they divorced, and Lucy moved to Chicago to study music.
Lucy Nicolar also toured as part of the Redpath Chatauqua Bureau, then the Keith vaudeville circuit. She married a lawyer who became her manager. He took all her money and fled to Mexico after the stock market crashed in 1929.
When vaudeville died, she returned to the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation with her husband Bruce Poolaw, a Kiowa entertainer from Oklahoma. They opened a gift shop — a teepee 24 feet in diameter — called it Poolaw’s Indian TeePee and sold traditional Indian crafts. They also continued to entertain locally.
Lucy and her sister Florence campaigned to improve life for their people on the reservation,. Their land stretched along the Penobscot River from Indian Island near Old Town to East Millinocket.
The sisters raised the educational standards for Penobscot children by gaining access to the public schools. And they persuaded the state to build a bridge to the island.
Postcard of Indian Island before the bridge
Lucy and Florence also demanded the right to vote for their people. When the state extended suffrage to the Penobscots in 1955, Lucy Nicolar cast the first ballot.
The Old Town Enterprise reported “The princess has done much for the uplift of her people during her public career, both locally and nationally.”
Lucy Nicolar died at Indian Island on March 27, 1969, at the age of 87.
So uplifting to hear her story that no matter what happened to her, she kept moving forward.
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