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.

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

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/.

Suffrage Leader Augusta Chissell to Be Inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame

By Kacy Rohn, Planner, City of College Park and Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey, Maryland Historical Trust

On March 21st at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis, Augusta T. Chissell will be inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, joining seven other notable women honored for their achievements and contributions to the State.

Maryland women suffragists played an important role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. State suffrage leaders, including Augusta T. Chissell, developed a robust network of grassroots organizations across Maryland, greatly shaping the fight for women’s rights. While the work of these activists has largely been forgotten, this is particularly true for African American suffragists, who were excluded from prominent suffrage organizations and omitted from newspaper coverage and organizational records. Early twentieth-century African American suffragists’ work was particularly important at a time when Jim Crow laws sought to undermine hard-won civil rights.

Augusta T. Chissell

Augusta Chissell. Photo courtesy of Mark Young

Augusta Chissell was an important African American leader of the women’s suffrage movement in Baltimore City in the early twentieth century. Chissell had deep roots in Baltimore’s women’s clubs, which fostered leadership skills as they promoted causes including education, healthcare, and prohibition. She was an officer in Baltimore’s Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club and held a leadership position in the prominent Women’s Cooperative Civic League. Chissell, her neighbor Margaret Gregory Hawkins, and activist Estelle Young were part of a black middle class who lived and worked in neighborhoods now part of the Old West Baltimore Historic District. The close proximity of these organizations’ members, driven by residential segregation, made it convenient for them to hold meetings in their homes, and they often gathered at Chissell’s home on Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.

Augusta Chissell Home

Augusta T. Chissell’s home at 1534 Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore

In the early twentieth century, the women’s suffrage movement began to secure the support of important state and national organizations. In 1914, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) endorsed women’s suffrage, and local clubs and associations moved quickly to draw further public support by holding mass meetings. The first public meeting of the Women’s Suffrage Club drew a large and enthusiastic crowd to Grace Presbyterian Church in December 1915, and in 1916, the NACWC brought their biennial national convention to Baltimore, where the suffrage movement was a major topic of discussion.

Chissells

Dr. Robert G. and Augusta T. Chissell with great nephew, Mark Young (ca. 1960)

Following passage of the 19th Amendment, Chissell authored “A Primer for Women Voters,” a recurring column in the Baltimore Afro-American that offered guidance to new African American women voters. She organized training sessions for women at the neighborhood Colored Young Women’s Christian Association (CYWCA) after women got the vote, and later served as the Chair of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League and as Vice President of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. The Women’s Club used the CYWCA to hold weekly ‘Citizenship Meetings’ for new women voters and ongoing lectures on voting and civic responsibility.

Augusta T. Chissell’s legacy endures in her former home at 1534 Druid Hill Avenue, where she lived during her decades of civic activism, and in the former CYWCA building at 1200 Druid Hill Avenue, where the Women’s Suffrage Club began hosting public meetings in 1915. As the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment approaches, Marylanders should honor and celebrate strong women like Augusta Chissell, whose decades of civic activism laid the groundwork for so many of us.

Tomorrow’s event is sold out, but the Maryland Historical Trust will post photos of the induction ceremony on social media. To explore the story of women’s suffrage in Maryland, visit MHT’s storymap “Maryland Women’s Fight for the Vote.” 

Celebrating Cambridge Heroines: Women at the Frontlines of Social Change

By Jessica Brannock, Communications Intern

Standing on the steps of the Cambridge Courthouse in 1963, Gloria Richardson addressed a crowd of reporters. As the leader of the Cambridge Movement, Richardson spoke of the ongoing efforts to desegregate the city’s school systems and ensure better jobs and housing for the African-American community. Today, this historic image of Richardson is commemorated in the Local African-American Heritage Mural in Cambridge, Maryland.

Stacked mural photo
Initial and completed stages of the Local African-American Heritage Mural in Cambridge, Maryland. Images provided by Michael and Heather Rosato, edited with permission.

The piece is one of several murals created by artist Michael Rosato along the Chesapeake Country Mural Trail. The placement of each figure is significant to the reading of the mural and the community’s story. “Everything radiates out from Harriet [Tubman] in the middle, she’s the foundation of that whole community,” Rosato said. “She’s the inspiration for freedom and respect, just an incredible woman.”

In recent years, Harriet Tubman has received local and national recognition with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center in Dorchester County, Maryland.

While prominent characters like Tubman, Richardson, and even Ella Fitzgerald can be picked out of the crowd, each figure stands on their own. Spotlights of the community’s history flow from left to right, with the last image featuring a modern-day athlete from Cambridge South Dorchester High School. “I wanted the modern kids to have a sense of ownership too, to feel that they are a part of the story,” Rosato said. “Their future is going to be the history of Cambridge.”

Today, the legacy of the Cambridge Movement is not mired in the past but has taken off with a new wave of activism and 21st century leaders. Co-founders of the Eastern Shore Network for Change (ESNC), Kisha Petticolas and Dion Banks have led community initiatives to continue the work of Gloria Richardson and bring people together.

Petticolas and Banks met in 2012 while campaigning for the re-election of Mayor Victoria Jackson- Stanley—the first African-American and woman elected Mayor of the City of Cambridge, Maryland. “Through our work at the ESNC, Dion [Banks] and I have found that the one thing that seems to constantly block this community from moving forward is failing to acknowledge our painful history concerning race,” Petticolas said.

In the summer of 2017, the ESNC hosted Reflections on Pine, a series of events that commemorated the Cambridge Movement and created a community-wide platform to discuss the incidents that lead to the burning of Pine Street in 1967. One event included a public interview with Richardson—now in her nineties, where she shared her experiences leading the movement. While Richardson succeeded in securing freedoms for the Cambridge community, many of the same economic and social issues are still felt today. The fight is not over. “I do this work because I believe everyone deserves to have the same basic opportunities in life,” Petticolas said. “We all deserve to be educated, employed, well paid for the work that we do, live in a home that is clean and safe, and to be respected for who we are.”

pic

Co-founders of the Eastern Shore Network for Change, Kisha Petticolas (left) and Dion Banks (right) pose for a photo with Gloria Richardson (center) during Reflections on Pine in 2017 [Image credit ESNC].

For over a century, women in Dorchester County have fought for social change, leaving legacies which propelled succeeding generations into new waves of activism and opportunity. “I am just a link in a chain that started hundreds of years ago by a woman whose name I will never know and I certainly will not be the last link,” said Petticolas. “I am hopeful that through our work at ESNC we are able to find the next link in the chain, and wouldn’t it be nice if she could be the last link?”

Preserving Chesapeake Heritage: Navigating the Tubman Landscape amid Rising Tides

By Jessica Brannock, Communications Intern

In 2007, roughly 17 acres of wetlands within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were dedicated to create the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (HTUR) State Park. These lands and waterways where Tubman lived and worked as a young woman, enslaved by the Brodess family, make up just a fraction of the 25,000 acres of land in Dorchester County dedicated to the HTUR National Monument. While the park’s Visitor Center offers exhibits on the life and heroism of Tubman, the true monument to her legacy is the landscape itself—and it’s disappearing.

Over the course of a decade, Tubman returned to this landscape 13 times and guided 70 slaves to freedom. Hiding in the marshes by day and traveling by foot and boat at night, Tubman and other freedom seekers relied on their knowledge of Chesapeake waterways, plant, and animal life to survive the journey north.

Visitor Center

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, LEED silver certified, and constructed on higher ground to protect the building against rising sea levels.

Today, much of the wildlife found in the brackish tidal marshes and hardwood forests of Blackwater NWR are typical of what Tubman encountered over 150 years ago. However, preserving these habitats and heritage is an ever-present challenge as wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are threatened by environmental change.

Current water levels in Blackwater NWR are much higher than when Tubman navigated the rivers and marshes to freedom. Since the NWR’s establishment in 1933, over 5,000 acres of wetlands have been lost to sea level rise.

Marshes act as buffers between land and water, filtering out toxins and absorbing the forces of storms and tides, and Tubman would have been familiar with the tidal rhythms that flooded the wetlands with saltwater and ebbed back with the flow of freshwater tributaries. As sea levels rise, however, saltwater mingles more heavily with fresh, destroying salt-sensitive plant-life as marshlands erode and give way to flooding. By the end of the century, climate science predicts that sea levels will rise in the Bay region between 3 and 4 feet.

Saltwater Intrusion 4

Patches of bare forest and exposed tree roots, destroyed by saltwater intrusion are reminders of rising tides, and the imminent loss of habitat that follows.

The HTUR Visitor Center was constructed with the vulnerability of the landscape in mind. The building is sustainably designed to LEED silver standards and includes bioretention ponds, rain barrels, and vegetative roofs. Located near the Little Blackwater River, where Tubman worked checking muskrat traps as a child, the site was strategically elevated, placing the building on higher ground—a precautionary measure against the accelerating rate of sea level rise. With nearly 300 acres of marsh within the NWR lost each year, the wetlands could be fully submerged by 2050.

Actions can be taken to slow the loss and preserve the landscape so valuable for its habitat and history. In 2017, the Conservation Fund, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Audubon Society partnered to raise 40 acres of marshland within the NWR. This thin-layering process spread 26,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Blackwater River across the wetlands, raising the marshes by 4-6 inches. Along with large scale tree and marsh grass planting, these efforts will help reduce the pace of flooding over the next decade.

As tides rise, the landscapes that hold our heritage will continue to suffer losses to their environmental and historical resources. In the coming years, we must acknowledge environmental threats and face them head on, so that future generations may continue to experience and interpret the legacy of our national treasures.