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.

Freedmen’s Communities in Maryland

After years of African American resistance to slavery and self-emancipation, as well as investment as Union soldiers in the Civil War, Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 when voters approved a new state Constitution.[1] Land ownership carried important practical and symbolic protections following emancipation – property served as a homeplace for Black families that white enslavers had separated, as a means for self sufficiency through farming and raising livestock, and as an important message of individual rights and citizenship. In these post-war years, some white landowners sold property to African Americans, although this land was often less than ideal; it might be swampy or have dense forests that needed to be cleared.[2] Despite these challenges, African Americans developed small enclaves of houses and farms that grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These communities also built churches, schools, and fraternal organization lodges.[3]

Some of these important places have been documented in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) – our repository of places with known or potential value to the history of the State of Maryland. We have provided some highlights below and encourage you to share in comments if you know of other communities near you!

Rossville, Prince George’s County

Located north of Beltsville in Prince George’s County, Rossville’s origins date to 1868, when six African American men purchased a third of an acre of land to construct Queen’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. Prior to the purchase, local African Americans had already created a cemetery on the property. The first church was a small log structure that burned in the late 1890s, but Queen’s Chapel continues to exist today in a 1956 brick building across Old Muirkirk Road from the cemetery and original site.

Queen’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, Prince George’s County (PG:62-21). Photo source: MIHP

In the 1880s, more land in the Rossville area became available after the death of a local white farmer. African Americans, many of them employed at the nearby Muirkirk Iron Furnace, purchased 12 surveyed lots and soon built residences. A fraternal organization called the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham also purchased a lot and constructed a lodge in 1889. This organization served a very important role in the community by providing social services and financial assistance to members in a time when many white institutions refused to work with African Americans. This building – a two-story, front-gabled frame structure – still exists and now is home to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Black History Program.

Abraham Hall, Prince George’s County (PG:62-7). Photo source: MHT staff

The lodge building also served as a school for the first two decades of the twentieth century. However, Rossville residents pressured the County Board of School Commissioners for the construction of a dedicated school in the community. A building committee of local community members supervised the construction of a new school in 1922, which was partially funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund’s School Building Program. (Philanthropist and former president of Sears, Roebuck and Company Julius Rosenwald created this special program to provide communities and local boards of education with financial and technical assistance for the construction of new, state-of-the art school buildings in 15 states in the rural south.) The school had two rooms with a capacity of 48 students. Today, the former schoolhouse serves as the American Legion Post 235.

Bacontown, Anne Arundel County

In 1860, the locally prominent Dorsey family freed an enslaved woman named Maria Bacon and gave her 30 acres of property. Sources indicate that Bacon was already living on this land prior to her manumission. Bacon, her three children, and several other manumitted African Americans formed the community known as Bacontown in northwestern Anne Arundel County near the Howard County line. The oldest building in the area is the late nineteenth-century Mary Elizabeth Henson House, the home of founder Maria Bacon’s daughter.

Mary Elizabeth Henson House, Anne Arundel County (AA-893). Photo source: MIHP

Like Rossville, Bacontown also had a fraternal organization lodge built by the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham, a cemetery, and a church. The Bacontown community constructed the existing Mt. Zion Church building in 1913, which replaced an earlier log church that previously stood nearby. The stucco-covered Mt. Zion Church with a center steeple and entry reflects Gothic Revival architecture, a style that was common in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century church buildings.

Mt. Zion Church, Anne Arundel County (AA-892). Photo source: MIHP

Unionville, Talbot County

On the Miles River Neck, a cape northeast of Easton, eighteen African American Union soldiers returned from Civil War service and founded the town of Unionville. A local white man named Ezekiel Cowgill sold and leased lots to them with the intent of creating a new community. (Cowgill was a Quaker, a religion with many adherents who were abolitionists in the years before the Civil War.) The name that the founders chose for the town sent a significant and courageous statement in an area where many white residents supported the Confederacy.

In 1892, in the center of town, local community trustees constructed St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church, detailed with Gothic Revival features including a pointed arch door and window openings and a three-story, pyramidal roofed tower. To the rear of the church is a cemetery where all 18 of the founding Civil War veterans are buried: John Blackwell, Ennels Clayton, Isaac Copper, John Copper, Benjamin Demby, Charles Demby, William Duane, William Doran, Horace Gibson, Zachary Glasgow, Joseph Gooby, Joseph H. Johnson, Peter Johnson, Edward Jones, Enolds Money, Edward Pipes, Henry Roberts, and Matthew Roberts.

St. Stephens A.M.E. Church, Talbot County (T-789). Photo source: MIHP

To serve as a school building for Unionville, the Talbot County School Board relocated an existing school from McDaniel, a small town northwest of St. Michaels, during the Great Depression in 1932. As described in a reminiscing newspaper article, movers hauled the circa 1910 school building across the land and the structure traversed the Miles River on a purpose-built scow (a wide, flat-bottomed boat). The building, built with frame construction, lapped wood siding, and a steeply pitched clipped gable roof, ceased operations as a school in 1957.

Unionville School, Talbot County (T-794). Photo source: MIHP

Freedmen’s communities tell important stories in the history of Maryland. Some of them have been destroyed, and others are threatened by development and systemic economic disinvestment. Documenting these places in the MIHP is one way to help preserve their legacy. You can search the MIHP via MHT’s cultural resource information system, known as Medusa, on our website: https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.


[1] “A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland,” Maryland State Archives and University of Maryland College Park, February 2008, https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/intromsa/pdf/slavery_pamphlet.pdf.

[2] George W. McDaniel, Hearth and Home: Preserving a People’s Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), 188-190.

[3] Michael Bourne, Orland Ridout V, Paul Touart, and Donna Ware, Architecture and Change in the Chesapeake (Crownsville, MD: MHT Press, 1998), 10.

Announcing the FY 2021 Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Awards

By Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey, and Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

We are pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s Historic Preservation Non-Capital grants! With funding from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority Financing Fund, these grants support and encourage research, survey, planning, and educational activities involving architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources.  This year, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) awarded eight grants totaling $300,000 to Maryland nonprofit organizations and local jurisdictions.

MHT identified several special funding priorities for the FY 2021 grant cycle, including:  comprehensive archaeological or architectural surveys; assessment and documentation of threatened areas of the state due to impacts of natural disasters; and projects undertaking in-depth architectural or archaeological study of a specific topic, time period, or theme. This year’s grant awards, listed below, ranged from $18,000 to $64,000, benefitting projects across the state.

Geophysical Survey of the Mill Field Surrounds – St. Mary’s County

($18,000 awarded)

 In 2018, with funding from the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program, Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) undertook a geophysical survey, which identified the remains of an early 17th-century site. HSMC will feature the excavation and interpretation of the site prominently in its master planning efforts, currently underway. To inform the effort, HSMC will utilize this grant to carry out a rapid, high-resolution, ground-penetrating radar survey on the full 12 acres surrounding and encompassing the resource.

Tim Horsley collects GPR data with the Jesuit Church at St. Mary’s in the background. The FY 2021 non-capital work will include a GPR survey of the full 12 acres surrounding and encompassing an early 17th-century site. Photo courtesy of Historic St. Mary’s City.

Documenting Early Women Architects in Maryland – Statewide Project

($40,000 awarded)

Baltimore Architecture Foundation, Inc., will research and document properties designed by the state’s first licensed women architects in Maryland. Funds will be used to hire a consultant to develop a National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form focused on women architects practicing in Maryland from 1920 to 1970.

Recovering Identity: Northern Frederick County Cultural Resource Survey – Frederick County

($50,000 awarded)

The African American Resources, Cultural Heritage Society (AARCH), Frederick County Division of Planning and Permitting, and the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc. (CFHS) will combine efforts to complete a comprehensive historic context statement and a survey of northern Frederick County, with an emphasis on previously undocumented African American resources. The project will prepare new or updated architectural survey forms for a sampling of building types, focusing on vernacular structures, for inclusion in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP).

Maryland Slave Dwelling Survey – Statewide Project

($36,000 awarded)

The Maryland Slave Dwelling Survey, led by Texas A&M University, proposes to investigate, document, and digitally visualize a statewide cross-section of buildings associated with enslaved African Americans. These resources are at risk from myriad forces including development, environmental change, and neglect. The project will produce investigative reports, digital photographs, measured drawings, and 3D digital models for a pilot dataset that can grow to include more sites across the state

Woodlawn Slave Quarters, Howard County (HO-411). The Maryland Slave Dwelling Survey will include the documentation of a selection of extant quarters across the state. Photo courtesy of Ken Short, Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning.

Investigating Jesuit Plantation Landscapes in Maryland: Archaeological and Geophysical Survey – Cecil and St. Mary’s Counties

($64,000 awarded)

This project, launched by the Catholic University of America (CUA), will examine archaeological evidence of built landscapes on former Jesuit plantations on the Eastern Shore and in southern Maryland. Archaeological investigations on these properties have identified few concrete architectural features such as slave quarters, tenant dwellings, or outbuildings. A combination of geophysical survey, surface survey, shovel testing, and test unit excavation will be used to examine the interrelationship between free and enslaved landscapes, resulting in a detailed summary report and new MIHP data. CUA will collaborate with landowners and stakeholders to develop public educational materials to interpret the findings.

Documenting Maryland’s Education History: A Context Study of School Architecture – Statewide Project

($46,000 awarded)

For this project, Preservation Maryland will hire a consultant to prepare a historic context report on Maryland school construction from early education efforts to the 1970s. The goal is to identify trends and patterns in school architecture, identify major styles and architectural features, and develop a framework for evaluating architectural and historical significance

Galesville Rosenwald School, Anne Arundel County (AA-914). Preservation Maryland received a grant to hire a consultant to prepare a statewide historic context on school architecture from the earliest education efforts to the 1970s. MHT staff photo.

Asian American Historical and Cultural Context of Montgomery County

($24,000 awarded)

MNCPPC-Montgomery County Historic Preservation will hire a consultant to conduct a historical and cultural resource survey associated with Asian American history, covering the period from the founding of Montgomery County in 1776 to the present, with a principal focus on the late 19th to early 21st centuries when the Asian American community grew in Montgomery County. The project will produce a series of oral histories and a research report identifying trends and themes related to Asian American history for future property designations.

U-1105 Historical and Archeological Survey, Inc.

($22,000 awarded)

The Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group will conduct archival research and documentation using direct measurements and imagery that will produce a report, update records, and disseminate results to the public.  U-1105 is a German U-boat equipped with a snorkel that extended its submerged operation, an advanced hydrophone array to detect vessels, an anechoic coating to evade opponents, and an advanced communication system.  It is believed to be the only German submarine equipped with this suite of innovations to conduct an operational patrol during WWII. U-1105 marks a significant milestone in the evolution from submersible to true submarine capable of indefinite submerged operation, and the changing tactics of undersea warfare between WWII and the Cold War.

Historic photograph of a U-1105 submarine. This grant, awarded to the Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group, will fund diving and direct measurements, photography, and videography of the U-1105 submerged in Maryland waters. Photo courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.

Availability of FY2022 funds through the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program will be announced in the spring of 2021 on MHT’s website (https://mht.maryland.gov/grants_noncap.shtml). Application deadlines and workshop dates will also be found on this page at that time. 

For more information about the grant program, please contact Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey at MHT, at 410-697-9536 or heather.barrett@maryland.gov.  For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.