Mary Bostwick Shellman: Carroll County Activist and Suffrage Leader

By Heather Barrett, Administrator of Architectural Research

Founded in 1909, the Just Government League (JGL) was the largest women’s suffrage organization in Maryland. Its headquarters at 817 North Charles Street in Baltimore hosted numerous organizational meetings and public events that raised statewide awareness of the suffrage movement. Grassroots efforts throughout the state soon established local chapters that held community meetings, distributed petitions, recruited members, and sought political support for the cause.[1]

When organizers established the JGL of Carroll County in the county seat of Westminster on January 10, 1913, Mary Bostwick Shellman, a prominent citizen with deep roots in the city, served as the first president. Eleven women became members at that initial gathering, and the first public meeting of the League, which had grown to 40 members, was held at the Opera House at 140 East Main Street on February 13.[2]

Mary Bostwick Shellman, ca. 1877. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Following the passage of the 19th Amendment, the JGL of Carroll County offered a “school of citizenship” at the Westminster Armory in September 1920. Over 200 women attended the non-partisan meeting, where they received guidance on the voting process. The Republican Party provided an “instruction” room for new women voters near each polling location to provide sample ballots and assistance via knowledgeable advocates. The Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House at 206 East Main Street, owned by Mary Shellman from 1909-1939, functioned as one of the instruction rooms. [3]

Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House, ca. 1880. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

In addition to suffrage activism, Shellman distinguished herself as a leader in numerous local and national reform movements, including advocacy for better care of residents of the county’s almshouse and work on behalf of Civil War veterans. She organized the first Memorial Day observance in Carroll County in 1868 and continued to serve as master of ceremonies for the annual event for decades. She held memberships in the Red Cross, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the League of Republican Women in Maryland. Further, she served as the first manager of the Westminster Division, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, where she oversaw finances and worked as an operator.[4]

Contemporary photo of the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Shellman briefly left Westminster for Oklahoma in 1932, and in 1937, she returned to be honored at the Carroll County Centennial. Mary Bostwick Shellman died on October 4, 1938, leaving the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House as a testament to her legacy. The house currently serves as the headquarters of the Historical Society of Carroll County, which was established in 1939 to save the local landmark from demolition.


[1] The Baltimore Sun, August 3, 1912. Rohn, Kacy. 2017. The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement. Draft report available at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

[2] The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD), January 23, 1914. Breaking Barriers. 2020, Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD.

[3] Breaking Barriers. 2020, Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD; “Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House: A Piedmont Maryland House Museum,”Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD, date unknown. Accessed at: https://hsccmd.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/SHERMAN.pdf.  Carroll County Deed, Liber LDM 171, Folio 291, John H. Cunningham (executor for Mary Bostwick Shellman) to The Historical Society of Carroll County, October 3, 1939.

[4] Ibid. The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD) September 27, 1918 and June 4, 1920.

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