Every election year brings challenges, surprises and some stand-out personalities. The 2024 Athenæum Lecture Series focuses in on electoral issues and people of importance to the electoral process, including the voter. As first in the nation, New Hampshire’s Presidential primary is often a bellwether—one way or another—for the Nation’s voting results. The lecturers look forward to engaging our audience with their knowledge of subjects ranging across outstanding people, the political process and the education of voters.

Each program begins at 5:30 pm in the third-floor Shaw Research Library of the Portsmouth Athenæum at 9 Market Square in Portsmouth, NH. Attendance is FREE for Athenæum Proprietors, Subscribers, and Friends. Guests and members of the public are welcome to attend the entire 2024 series by becoming a Friend of the Athenæum (see link below) for as little as $25 per year, payable at the door. Admission to an individual program is $15.

Reservations for each program are required as seating is limited. The link to online reservation can be found next to each program. If unable to keep your reservation, please call (603) 431-2538 to release the seat for someone else. Reserved seats are honored until five minutes before a program begins. NOTE: Online registration ends 24 hours before the program begins; thereafter, please call (603) 431-2538, if space is available.



2024 Speakers

Due to unfortunate circumstances our series opener scheduled for March 20, with Ann Beattie presenting General Benjamin Butler: Rapscallion Reformer, has been postponed. A new date will be announced.




On April 17, Thomas Rath will present An Insider’s Take on NH’s Presidential Primary. His talk will address what’s really important—and what goes on behind the scenes—at New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Presidential primary. It will include anecdotes from his experience as a seasoned participant in and observer of New Hampshire’s political scene. Sign up online.

Thomas D. Rath served as the 21st Attorney General of New Hampshire, succeeding David Souter upon the latter’s appointment to the New Hampshire Superior Court in 1978. Mr. Rath is the founder of the law firm of Rath, Young & Pignatelli and has been actively involved in government relations since entering private practice in 1980. Mr. Rath was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be a director of the Legal Services Corporation. He served as the Chairman of the election campaigns of New Hampshire’s former U.S. Senators Warren Rudman and Judd Gregg, and he actively assisted in the U.S. Senate process that confirmed David Souter as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He has served as a senior national advisor to the presidential campaigns of Howard Baker, Robert Dole, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush. He was a delegate to each of the Republican National Conventions from 1984 through 2016, and he was the Republican Party National Committeeman for New Hampshire from 1996-2000 and 2002-2007. Mr. Rath is widely respected as a political analyst at both the state and national level, and he appears regularly on national, regional and state television newsmaker programs.

Link to online reservation.


On May 15, Granite State Politics and First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary: A Journalist’s Perspective will be presented by James Pindell who will relate some of his experiences in reporting on New Hampshire politics and on election campaigning in the State. In particular, Mr. Pindell will address the differences he sees between NH voters and those in other states and the effect that those differences may have on candidates’ campaign approaches. He will also speak about New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Presidential primary and discuss some of the ways in which he finds that primary to have changed over the years since he began covering it.

James Pindell is a national political reporter for The Boston Globe’s Washington Bureau. He is also an NBC/MSNBC on-air political contributor. The Washington Post has called him the “Insider’s Insider” for his coverage of New Hampshire politics, and he is the only reporter to cover both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire Presidential primary as a beat for local outlets. For 15 years through last November, he wrote the politics column for New Hampshire magazine. Previously he spent nearly 5 years at WMUR-TV, where he covered New Hampshire politics. Before that, he was the publisher of “New Hampshire Political Report,” a subscription newsletter for political insiders. He has also worked for The Des Moines Register, the New Hampshire Union Leader, Campaigns and Elections magazine, and the Indianapolis Star.

Link to online reservation.

On June 19, Hannah McCarthy and Nick Capodice, co-hosts of NHPR’s podcast Civics 101, will present Civics 101: What We’re Taught and What We’re Not. In their podcast, McCarthy and Capodice talk about the state of civics education in America today for both school kids and adults. They will talk about what they teach, what they don’t, why so much of what was learned about America is not true and what to do about it. Civics 101 was created as “Schoolhouse Rock for adults,” a way to reinforce civic learning received in our respective middle and high schools. McCarthy and Capodice have met with lots of teachers around the country to see what they’re teaching in modern classes, expecting to hear a variant of what had been taught. However, it was quickly made apparent that, while the kids are alright and in good hands, it is the adults who need the education. Every episode of the podcast uncovers a myth, oversimplification, or flat-out inaccuracy.

Hannah McCarthy has worked with Civics 101 since 2016. Prior to that she was a State House and Couch Fellow reporter with NHPR and journalist in Brooklyn, New York. Nick Capodice has worked with Civics 101 since 2017. Prior to his time at NHPR, Nick worked in the education department of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, telling the stories of American newcomers. Nick and Hannah have co-created hundreds of episodes, and their podcast has been downloaded over 26 million times. Civics 101 has won regional and national awards, including the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel for a series on landmark Supreme Court cases.

Link to online reservation.

After a summer break, the 2024 lecture series returns on September 18 with polling expert David W. Moore presenting Misreading the Public: The Failed Promise of Public Opinion Polling. He will explore the origins of “scientific” public opinion polling, with George Gallup being the iconic representative of the early pollsters whose goal was to provide the voice of the people between elections. Since then, it has become obvious that the public’s voice is not so easy to measure. It’s difficult to find samples of respondents who accurately represent the larger population. Question wording is tricky, which often influences the very opinions pollsters are trying to measure. Unfortunately, the news media have taken over the polling enterprise with less concern with the quality of the “public opinion” they report than producing compelling news stories. The net result is that most public opinion polls about policy issues produce the “illusion of public opinion” rather than a reasonable estimate of how engaged the public is and what it is thinking.

David Moore is a Senior Fellow with the Carsey School at the University of New Hampshire and a two time winner of the EPPY (Editors and Publishers) Award for his writing about polls on iMediaEthics. He is also a periodic contributor of polling critiques to FAIR.org. He is a former Managing Editor of the Gallup Poll, and author of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls. Prior to working for Gallup, he was a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, where he founded the UNH Survey Center.

Link to online reservation.

On October 16, Paula Fortner, accompanied by Phyllis Gagnon, will present the Election of NH’s “Handsome Frank” Defeats “Old Fuss ‘N Feathers”! New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce was just who the Democrats needed to defeat the Whigs’ candidate General Winfield Scott. Pierce had it all. He was a young honest statesman, a top trial lawyer, a loyal party leader and a charismatic orator. While a Brigadier General in the Mexican War, Pierce’s leadership qualities had become evident. He was a man of integrity and tolerance who seemed untainted by sectional prejudice. Franklin was loved by his constituents and respected by his peers on both sides of the aisle. He exercised a strict adherence to the Constitution and held a strong commitment to preserve the Union at all costs. Paula Fortner will discuss Pierce’s road to the presidency within the framework of his times.

Paula Fortner is a board member of the Hillsborough Historical Society where she creates exhibits and serves as archivist and recording secretary. She is a board member at the Franklin Pierce Manse in Concord where she conducts tours and is co-manager of collections. She is a Granite State Ambassador and a member of the New Hampshire Historical Society. Since 2004, when she began giving tours of the Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough, she has been studying Franklin Pierce and the historical, social, and political events pertinent to his lifetime.

Phyllis Gagnon is a published freelance writer, poet and editor. She has written a book on President Franklin Pierce and his historic Concord home known as the Franklin Pierce Manse. She is a tour guide and board member at the Manse in Concord.

Link to online reservation.

The 2024 lecture series concludes on November 20 when Proprietor Jack McGee who presents Levi Woodbury: From ‘Baby Judge’ to U.S. Supreme Court (and Threshold of the White House). Born in Francestown, New Hampshire, Levi Woodbury established a legal practice there in 1812. He was named to New Hampshire’s highest court in 1816 at age 26. In 1823 he was elected Governor of NH; from there he was elected to the United States Senate. He served as Secretary of the Navy under Andrew Jackson and as Secretary of the Treasury under Jackson and Martin Van Buren. In 1845 he was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by James K. Polk. At his death in 1851, he was the leading Democratic Party contender for the Presidency in the 1852 Presidential election.

Jack McGee, a name partner in Flynn and McGee, P.A. here in Portsmouth, has served as a member of the Order of the Barristers, Chairman of the New Hampshire Labor Board of Appeals and Vice President and President of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

Link to online reservation.


Article written by Irene Bush.


The 2024 Lecture Series is sponsored by Whole Wealth Management.

Attendance is free for Athenaeum Proprietors, Subscribers, and Friends. Guests and members of the public are welcome to attend the entire 2024 series by becoming a Friend of the Athenaeum (see link below) for as little as $25 per year, payable at the door. Admission to an individual program is $15.