Women’s Suffrage in Maryland (Guest Blog)

By Nicole Diehlmann

The quest for women’s suffrage represents over 70 years of activism that ultimately resulted in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on August 18, 1920. The movement relied on a complicated grassroots network of affiliated national, state, and local organizations that were often fraught with divisions over race, strategy, and tactics. These organizations were predominantly comprised of white upper- and middle-class women, although some efforts were made to engage poorer women. White suffragists nearly always excluded black women, who formed their own segregated organizations such as the Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club established in Baltimore by Estelle Young. Black suffragists advocated not only for women’s suffrage but also for a host of other civil rights legislation. Overall, the movement was decidedly nonviolent and relied on the power of persuasion and education to attract people to the cause.

The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore.
The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. Photo: Nicole Diehlmann

The national movement began in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, but organized suffrage activity in Maryland did not gain much momentum until the end of the nineteenth century. In 1889 Caroline Hallowell Miller of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County established the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). Despite the name, the organization consisted only of a small group of Quaker women in the county. When the Baltimore City Suffrage Club was established in 1894, the Sandy Spring group was renamed the Montgomery County Suffrage Association and both clubs allied under the umbrella of the MWSA. Meetings were originally held in member’s homes, but as the groups grew larger, they began using more public spaces, such as the Friends’ Meeting House on Park Avenue in Baltimore.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

At the turn of the twentieth century, MWSA began hosting more and larger mass meetings to gain recruits. These meetings often featured nationally known suffragist leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and were held in large private halls or theaters like Heptasoph’s Hall and MedChi’s Osler Hall in Baltimore. Under the leadership of Emma Maddox Funck, who was elected MWSA president in 1904, the organization became more closely connected to the national movement, and the number of locally affiliated clubs grew. The growth of these local clubs led to a diversity of opinions regarding strategy and tactics and, ultimately, a fracturing of the movement. By 1910, there were three separate statewide suffrage organizations for white women competing for membership and control of statewide suffrage strategy. MWSA remained as the most conservative organization. Most of its members tended to be women who did not work outside the home, and these women generally acted within socially accepted norms for upper and middle-class women of the time. Edith Haughton Hooker’s Just Government League, which was comprised of many professional women, such as nurses, teachers, and businesswomen, was the most militant. Just Government League members brought their members and their message outside of traditional female-occupied spaces to more public forums like open air mass meetings. Elizabeth King Ellicott’s State Franchise League was somewhere between the two. Both the Just Government League and the State Franchise League developed broad grassroots campaigns, creating affiliated organizations in towns and counties throughout Maryland.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
The Just Government League marching on Cathedral Street in Baltimore. From the Maryland Suffrage News

The Just Government League was the most successful of the three organizations, growing its membership through persuasive marketing tactics, including its widely publicized suffrage hikes, where women would march from town to town carrying banners, distributing literature, and giving speeches in support of women’s suffrage. The first was held in January 1914, where the “Army of the Severn” marched from Baltimore to Annapolis to deliver a suffrage petition to the Maryland General Assembly. Hikes continued into 1915, visiting all corners of the state, including a Western Maryland hike in Allegany and Garrett Counties, a “pilgrimage” from Baltimore to St. Mary’s County to visit the homesite of Margaret Brent, considered Maryland’s first suffragist, and shorter hikes in Harford, Howard, and Montgomery Counties. Not only did these hikes garner much publicity through widespread newspaper coverage, they also boosted membership in local and statewide suffrage organizations, which was key to growing a broad base of support for women’s suffrage.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

Despite their organization and tactics, Maryland suffragists were unsuccessful in convincing the Maryland General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Both chambers decisively rejected ratification when it came up for a vote on February 17, 1920—the House by a vote of 64 to 36 and the Senate by 18 to 9. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Several days later, on August 26, 1920, US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the vote and proclaimed the Nineteenth Amendment to be part of the US Constitution. The decades-long struggle was finally over, and both white and black suffragists in Maryland quickly shifted to the task of preparing women to vote in the 1920 election; however, black women were still subject to Jim Crow-era rules and practices that sought to restrict  black citizens’ access to the vote. Equal suffrage for black women was not fully secured until the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Maryland General Assembly finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in a token vote on March 29, 1941, but the vote was not certified until March 25, 1958. Despite Maryland’s lack of decisive action on the amendment, Maryland suffragists, both black and white, made major contributions to the overall effort and their grassroots advocacy created a network of skilled female activists who continued to press for political and civic reforms in the state.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

References

National Park Service. Maryland and the 19th Amendment. Last Updated May 12, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/articles/maryland-and-the-19th-amendment.htm.

Rohn, Kacy. 2017. The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement. Draft report available at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

Williams, Lea M. 2020. Ellen N. La Motte: Nurse, Writer, Activist (England: Manchester University Press, 2020). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ellen_N_La_Motte/0vi7DwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22Just+Government+League%22+maryland&pg=PT69&printsec=frontcover

The Electric Railway in Western Maryland

By Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

A century ago, there were hundreds of miles of trolley (also known as electric railway) tracks that traversed the state of Maryland. One can easily imagine the prevalence of trolleys in the urban areas of Maryland around Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, DC. However, in the early twentieth century, trolleys also operated across the farmlands and mountains of western Maryland.

Trolley descending from Braddock Heights, 1919. Source: Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway
Trolley descending from Braddock Heights, 1919. Source: Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway

Options for the electric railway in western Maryland first began to be realized in Richmond, Virginia in 1888 when inventor Frank Sprague proved that electric traction could travel up and down steep grades. In fact, electric railway could climb steeper grades than conventional steam railway. Further, trolleys used a lighter track than steam-powered railway.

All electric railway enterprises in western Maryland were private (non-governmental) ventures. One of the first such companies, the Frederick and Middletown Railway, was motivated to provide faster transportation of farm produce to markets and to make money through passenger transport. Construction of the new railway line began at Patrick and Carroll Streets in Frederick. In addition to purchasing right-of-way, investors in the company also bought land on the ridge of Catoctin Mountain along the trolley’s future route to Middletown. They developed this area, known as Braddock Heights, into a summer resort village. In August 1896, the first trolleys began shuttling passengers between Frederick and Braddock Heights. This mountain resort contained an amusement park, observatory, dance pavilion, theater, carousel, slide, and casino, in addition to inns and private summer houses. By October of that year, the line extended to Middletown.

Braddock Heights slide, c. 1910s. Source: antiquesnavigator.com
Braddock Heights slide, c. 1910s. Source: antiquesnavigator.com

Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, various companies constructed lines connecting western Maryland. In 1904, a final passage constructed over South Mountain provided direct conveyance between Frederick and Hagerstown. This full trolley trip took 2 hours to traverse 29 miles with 3,000’ in elevation change.

In addition to linking cities, the electric railway in western Maryland also connected urban and suburban areas. For example, before the end of the nineteenth century, the Hagerstown Railway created a loop around the city of Hagerstown and lines into the heart of downtown on Washington and South Potomac Streets.

Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org
Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Also, the line connecting Hagerstown and Williamsport, which ran along US Route 11, had a high ridership as a suburban operation.  

The electric railway remained popular for several decades, but eventually several factors contributed to its decline in western Maryland. The companies who owned and operated the trolleys began to realize that they could make more money by selling the electricity that they produced to power their trains to homes and businesses instead. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway company eventually became an electric utility business known as Potomac Edison. Through various consolidations and mergers, this company is known as FirstEnergy today.

Potomac Street, Williamsport c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress
Potomac Street, Williamsport c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress

The introduction of bus systems, including the Hagerstown city loop that passed the fairgrounds, and the improvement of roads for automobiles, including the reconstruction of US Route 40 over the mountains, also lead to the demise of electric railways. By the early 1950s, trolleys in Western Maryland ceased to provide passenger conveyance, and freight transportation lasted only several years longer.

Some of the places associated with the western Maryland electric railway systems have been retained and preserved. The Boonsboro Trolley Station was restored into a museum partly funded by MHT’s Historic Preservation Capital Grant Program. The Frederick Terminal and Office Building and the Washington and Frederick Railway Car Barn in Hagerstown also survive and are included in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (more information can be found here and here). Additionally, the Hagerstown and Frederick Trolley Trail Association is working to convert the old trolley line between Thurmont and Frederick into a multi-use trail, an effort that was recently awarded a Maryland Heritage Area Authority grant!

Boonsboro Trolley Station. Source: MHT photo

Sources:

Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books, 1970.

Janet L. Davis, “Braddock Heights Survey District,” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form F-4-8. Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, 1992.

Edie Wallace and Paula Reed, “Boonsboro Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 2004.

“Virtual Exhibit”, The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway Historical Society, Inc. https://hfrhs.org/visitor/virtual-exhibit/

The Civil Rights Movement, Segregation, & Slavery in Maryland: A (Brief) Reading List

By Lara Westwood, Librarian

This past week, protests occurred in all fifty states and across the globe to fight against racism, inequality, and police brutality in the United States in the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among many others. For those looking to learn more about the historical context for these events, here is a short reading list on the civil rights movement, segregation, and slavery in Maryland. 

Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland by C. Fraser Smith
Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland by C. Fraser Smith

Ancestors of Worthy Life: Plantation Slavery and Black Heritage at Mount Clare by Teresa S Moyer & Paul A Shackel, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015

Baltimore Revisited: Stories of Inequality and Resistance in a U.S. City by P. Nicole King, Kate Drabinski, Joshua Clark Davis, et al., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2019

Civil War on Race Street: the Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland by Peter B Levy, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004

Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland by C. Fraser Smith, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012

John Brown to James Brown: the Little Farm Where Liberty Budded, Blossomed and Boogied by Ed Maliskas, Hagerstown, Maryland: Hamilton Run Press, 2016

Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 2012

Road to Jim Crow: the African American Struggle on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 1860-1915 by C. Christopher Brown, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016

Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore by Seth Rockman, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, ©2009

Seeking Freedom: a History of the Underground Railroad in Howard County, Maryland by Paulina C Moss, Levirn Hill, Howard County Center of African American Culture et al, Columbia, Md.: Howard County Center of African American Culture, 2002

This list is by no means exhaustive but a starting point for those seeking more information. These books can be found at your local library or favorite independent bookstore. Let us know your recommendations in the comments section!

Documenting Maryland’s Dairy Industry

By Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research & Survey

Dairy barns and supporting structures, such as milking parlors, silos, and farmyards, were once common features in Maryland’s agricultural landscape. Yet, no comprehensive survey or historic context exists that documents the role of the dairy industry in Maryland. As more and more farmers leave the industry, now is the time to capture these stories and document the associated historic resources before all tangible evidence disappears.

Martha Perry Robinson (Pattie). Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

To support this effort, the Maryland Historical Trust awarded the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design a non-capital grant to document historic dairy farms in Cecil, Carroll, and Frederick counties over the next two years. Additionally, the MHT Board of Trustees is funding the documentation of several farms in Garrett and Allegany counties. This project, eventually covering all 23 counties plus Baltimore City, is identified as a survey goal in the statewide preservation plan, PreserveMaryland II (2019-2023), and MHT staff from the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration is actively involved in the outreach, documentation, and research efforts.

Farmers from Western Maryland and staff from the Office of Research, Survey, & Registration at the Dairy Farmers Reunion at the Allegany County Fair in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Casey Pecoraro).

Changes in Maryland’s agricultural industry frequently translated to the built environment, requiring new forms and materials to meet evolving needs and advances. In the late nineteenth century, many Maryland farmers sought to diversify their agricultural production, moving from traditional crops such as wheat and tobacco to dairy, fruits, and vegetables. By the early twentieth century, countless dairy farmers shifted from using large multi-purpose barns that housed a variety of livestock to a more standardized barn design dedicated to safe dairy production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture publicized the new designs, which focused on increased light, ventilation, and materials, such as concrete, that promoted cleanliness. Additionally, advances in technology, such as the development of the feed silo in 1873 and improvements to refrigeration, pasteurization, and bottling, transformed the industry at the turn of the century.[1]

Main house at Leigh Castle Farm, Carroll County. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Near the town of Marston in Carroll County, Leigh Castle Farm is a representative early twentieth-century dairy farm that illustrates the shift in agricultural practices.[2] Harry and Martha (Robinson) Townshend purchased the roughly 53-acre farm in 1908 for $4,000. By 1910, the U.S. Census lists Harry as a farmer, with the household consisting of Harry, age 30; Martha, age 29; and Margaret, their one-year old daughter.[3] The family expanded three years later with the birth of their son Henry.

Martha Robinson Townshend and her mother Amanda Baden Robinson at the Carroll County farm. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to dairy production, the Townshends grew a variety of crops and raised chickens. In a letter dated July 20, 1914, Martha (known as Pattie) wrote to her mother, Amanda Baden Robinson, of Brandywine, Maryland: “We have had a very wet season and such heavy electric storms … I have certainly had a terrible time this summer – labor is scarce and high – some of Harry’s hay and wheat crop was damaged but I did my best … I have done but little canning – cherries rotted on the trees and my beans are to (sic) old to can now … Only have a small crop of chickens about a hundred and five … Am raising a calf, which is much trouble around the house (?) …”[4] On the eve of World War I and with a newly established farm, this passage illustrates the challenges and hard work of farming for a living.

Dairy barn constructed at the farm in 1929. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Between 1919 and 1923, the Townshends added a total of about eight acres to the farm. The farm expanded again with the construction of a sizable new dairy barn in 1929. Historic photographs in the collections of the National Museum of American History chronicle the barn-raising and show a typical, early twentieth-century concrete block and frame gambrel-roofed structure. Concrete block and structural terracotta tile were common materials used in the construction of dairy barns and milking parlors in the twentieth century, as more stringent sanitation laws were enacted. By 1930, the Agriculture Census showed 858 dairy farms in Carroll County, just behind Frederick and Harford counties, with a total of 5,652 farms classified as dairy operations in the state.[5] 

Additional research, such as agricultural or farm schedules, will provide further information into the operations of Leigh Castle Farm. As we move forward with our documentation and research efforts, MHT will continue to highlight examples of dairy-related buildings, farm complexes, and landscapes that help illustrate this important chapter in Maryland’s history.


[1] Diehlmann, Nicole A. and Jacob M. Bensen, Thematic Historic Context:  Dairy Farming in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland (Appendix F), March 2020.

[2] The farm became known as Leigh Castle, named after one of the early parcels of land.

[3] Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

[4] Letter to Amanda Baden from Martha (Pattie) Townshend, July 20, 1914. The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[5] Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 – Agriculture, Volume III, United States Government Printing Office (Washington, DC: 1932).

Gertrude Sawyer: Pioneer and Architect

By Annie Allen, Architectural Survey Data Specialist

This time last year, as a new employee of the Maryland Historical Trust, I attended my first annual all-staff meeting at the beautiful Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM). The day included a fun “Mystery Heist” icebreaker, for which we all assumed the personalities of various characters who frequented the Patterson residence in the 1950s. When I was assigned my character – Gertrude Sawyer, the architect of the park’s Point Farm –  I was instantly intrigued. Gertrude Sawyer happens to be my mother’s name! To get into my role, I read a small synopsis about Gertrude and learned that she was from Tuscola, Illinois, two hours away from where my Sawyer ancestors hail. These coincidences spurred me to dig a little deeper to find out more about this woman. I was hoping to find a fun family connection to my assigned character. What I discovered is definitely worth sharing. 

Gertrude Sawyer ca.1957. Source: University of Illinois Archives

Gertrude graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1918 with a B.S. in landscape architecture. Wishing to be an architect from a young age, she attended Smith College’s Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, where she earned a Master’s in Architecture in 1922. She then moved to Washington, D.C., to work as an associate for Horace W. Peaslee – however, not before building and selling her first residential home in Kansas City, Missouri. She received an early commission while working for Mr. Peaslee to design the Junior League of Washington’s Art Deco headquarters on Dupont Circle. In 1934, Gertrude opened her own firm and became an AIA member in 1939.  During World War II, Gertrude helped to design four thousand temporary homes for military families in D.C.  She earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander for the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps (the Seabees). By the time of her retirement in 1969, Gertrude was registered to practice architecture in the District of Columbia, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Junior League Building (now Kossuth House, Hungarian Reformed Federation). Source: Kossuth Foundation

Gertrude’s projects were predominantly residential, with a focus on country estates. In 1932, Jefferson Patterson, a foreign service diplomat, hired Gertrude to design Point Farm, his country residence in St. Leonard, Maryland, most of which is now JPPM. This project resulted in 26 building designs, ranging from an elegant Colonial Revival family home and guest houses to a show barn for cattle. The Patterson family considered Gertrude the family’s architect. Gertrude’s scrupulous eye for detail is not only evident in the exquisite classical architectural features of the Patterson home but also in her rigorous note-taking, sections, and plans. Her drawings can be found online at the Maryland State Archives, and many of her building designs can still be seen around Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area.

Point Farm, Jefferson Patterson Residence. Source: JPPM

As one of this area’s early woman architects, Gertrude Sawyer was definitely a groundbreaker in her field. However, rather than being recognized as a female architect, she preferred to be known as a good architect. In an interview with Gertrude, Matilda McQuaid revealed “that several women’s organizations had contacted her, knowing her to be one of the pioneer women architects. But when she told them, ‘I was always treated fairly, and throughout my career had a very good time building and designing,’ they never called back.” She once told the Sunday Star that “[p]eople who don’t want a woman architect just don’t come to you. But others see the advantage of your being able to interpret their individual needs because you are a woman.” Gertrude’s dedication to her profession and her pursuit of excellence forged a successful career with many long-standing clients like the Pattersons. 

Detail of the main stair in Jefferson Patterson Residence. Source: Maryland State Archives

Although I haven’t found that family connection yet, it was a pleasure ‘getting to know’ this accomplished architect and trailblazer. I’m still researching! 

Jefferson Patterson Farm. Source: Jillian Storms, Baltimore Architecture Foundation
Jefferson Patterson Farm. Source: Jillian Storms, Baltimore Architecture Foundation

For more information about Gertrude Sawyer’s buildings at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, visit https://jefpat.maryland.gov/Pages/default.aspx 

Sources:

Allaback, Sarah. The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press, 2008.

American Institute of Architects. Application For Membership. June 1939. Gertrude Sawyer’s AIA Application. 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC.

Berkeley, Ellen Perry., and Matilda McQuaid. Architecture: A Place for Women. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1989. 

Dean, Ruth. “For The Seabees: Woman Architect Came to Their Aid.” The Sunday Star [Washington. DC] 25 Mar. 1956, D-10 sec.: n.

“Early Women of Architecture in Maryland.” http://www.aiawam.com/.

Researching Identity through History and Place

By Karen Yee, University of Maryland Graduate Student

Chinatowns have always held a special place in my heart because the visits were the only time my parents would talk about our heritage. Every year without fail, my family would travel all the way to New York City’s Manhattan Chinatown to celebrate the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day in English, which falls on April 4 or 5. It’s a time to remember ancestors by tomb sweeping and lighting incense as a sign of respect to our ancestors. When I was 13, my grand-uncle made the trip with us. I still remember when he looked around at the cemetery and quietly said: “They discriminated against us, that’s why all these gravestones are just slabs of stone.” I did not understand what he meant until years later, when I began studying about Asian American history as a graduate student at the University of Maryland.

The author, Karen Yee.

When I began my graduate research to learn about Baltimore City’s Chinatown for the Maryland Historical Trust this semester, I started with limited knowledge of Asian American history. It was not taught in public school or an option while I was in college. When I first studied the general history of Chinese immigration into the United States as part of this project, I was shocked to find that the earliest wave of Chinese immigration from the mid-1850’s had come from the Guangdong Providence – even more surprisingly, it was primarily in the Taishan district – where my family had roots. I knew at the very least that this was where my father’s side of the family grew up, and it was my own dialect that I spoke with my grandmother. As I delved deeper, I immediately reported my new facts to my father, who told me how the history connected to my own family tree. After researching the general history of Chinese Americans, I looked toward Baltimore’s Chinese immigrant history. Before I began this project, I was not even aware there was a Chinatown in Baltimore.

Park Avenue in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the author.

For hundreds of years, Baltimore enjoyed a fairly positive trading relationship with China. Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood, for example, is named after Canton, China. John O’Donnell purchased property in what is now known as Canton to build a plantation in the late 18th century. He had traded with China at the port of Canton because it was the only Chinese port opened to Western trade at the time. Over the years, Chinese prime ministers, major trade groups, and student groups have visited Baltimore for a variety of reasons.  Leslie Chin’s History of Chinese Americans in Baltimore (1976) shows the ways Chinese immigrants have impacted the urban landscape through their laundries, restaurants, import stores, and joss houses (places of worship of Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, or Chinese Folk religion) in Baltimore’s Old Chinatown. Baltimore’s Chinatown held a majority percentage of the total Chinese population in Maryland between 1870 and 1960, after which it began to decline due to suburban sprawl and the need for more space to accommodate growing families into areas such as Rockville. Despite legislation such as the Page Act of 1875 (the first restrictive federal immigration law in the United States, which prevented entry of Chinese women) and Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which banned the entry of Chinese men as well), the Chinese population in Baltimore continued to grow in size. This growth resulted either from people exploiting loopholes in the legislation or migration of already established immigrants from other states. 

Charm City Night Market in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the author.

Chinatowns were developed out of the need for Chinese immigrants to seek safe havens from racial discrimination, providing a place where residents could trade and practice traditions within a familiar context. Most Chinatowns were composed of men due to the restrictive immigration legislation in the late 19th century. Family groups and associations such as the Chinese Benevolent Association also gave political and social help to those in need. In Baltimore, some churches and religious/faith institutions extended a hand in helping immigrants adjust to life in the United States.

Life in Baltimore’s old Chinatown was not really any different from other city neighborhoods except for the context of anti-Chinese sentiment and discrimination. There were community celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, funerals, and other activities. Chinese immigrants did interact with the non-Chinese local community through their trade businesses, laundries, and restaurants. Although old Chinatown no longer stands in its entirety, revitalization efforts in the area began in 2018 with the Charm City Night Market, which took place in the area. Hopefully in the future, the neighborhood will return back to its former glory — not as a Chinatown, but as a place where all Asians, Pacific Islanders, and others can celebrate their history and heritage through historic sites and cultural resources. This motivates me to continue my research on the history and heritage of Chinese Americans in Baltimore and in Maryland.

As I wrap up my research work with MHT this month, I find it fitting that May is both Asian Pacific American Heritage and Preservation Month. This project provided an opportunity to preserve a part of my own and others’ family history. It also shed light into my own personal identity. I had grown up understanding that I was Chinese American, but I did not understand what it meant to be a Chinese American in the United States. My history in the United States does not start at the beginning of my birth, but in the struggles of those who had come before me and worked hard to achieve their goals and rights. It took me eleven years to begin to understand what my grand-uncle had said that day. As I and others visit the tombs of our ancestors, I hope that we will all continue to seek out our own histories to preserve our stories and places for future generations to learn and explore. Old Chinatown in Baltimore may be changed, but its history and stories wait patiently to be discovered and shared.