Caravaning for Votes: The Margaret Brent Pilgrimage to St. Mary’s City

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director, Maryland Historical Trust

In June 1915, a caravan of suffragists arrived in St. Mary’s City to honor Margaret Brent, a 17th century Marylander lauded by many as the first woman suffragist in America.  The “Margaret Brent Pilgrimage,” sponsored by the Just Government League, was designed to garner the attention of the media and stir the imagination of the public. The successful spectacle inspired newspaper articles in state and local papers which tracked the pilgrims’ progress over a series of weeks during the summer of 1915. Most of the sites that hosted the caravan are located in the Four Rivers and Southern Maryland Heritage Areas and can still be visited today. 


Suffrage leaders in the prairie wagon. From left to right – Mrs. F. F. Ramey, Mrs. John M. Heard,
Miss L. C. Trax. Source: Maryland Suffrage News. (Baltimore, Md.), 29 May 1915. Chronicling
America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The pilgrimage caravan, designed for maximum effect, was described by the Baltimore Sun in May of 1915 as consisting of:

“A prairie schooner, two big white horses, some pots and pans and army cots, a bottle of citronella, four women suffragists and one man (who) will leave tomorrow for Southern Maryland on a pilgrimage to the home of Margaret Brent, the first suffragist of America…”

The sides of the canvas covered wagon were emblazoned with the slogan “Votes for Women,” two American flags unfurled on either side of the wagon’s bench seat, and – in addition to pots and pans – the wagon included a typewriter, a camera, and a flaming gasoline light for night meetings. On the wagon were Miss Mary O’Toole, an Ireland-born Washington lawyer and Secretary of the Washington, DC, branch of the College Equal Suffrage League; Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ramey, the former both an attorney and a suffragist; Mrs. Frank Hiram Snell, a New Englander who previously worked in Missouri on the suffrage amendment there; and Miss Lola C. Trax, a Marylander who was a prolific writer and professional organizer in the women’s suffrage movement.  

Miss Trax had planned the 350-mile journey, which would begin at the Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore City and travel south through Annapolis, Prince Frederick, and Solomon’s Island to St. Mary’s City, with the return trip planned through Leonardtown, Charlotte Hall, La Plata, and Upper Marlboro before their return to Baltimore. In all, the plan was for the pilgrims to cover an average of 15 miles per day, stopping at 37 towns along the route. They would host up to three open- air meetings per day, in order to “tell the inhabitants about the votes for women movement” in the hopes of arousing interest and obtaining converts.  


The route of the Margaret Brent Pilgrimage. Source: Maryland Suffrage News. (Baltimore, Md.),
29 May 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The caravan set off from Baltimore on May 31st, stopping in Glen Burnie and Severna Park. On June 1st the front page of the Evening Capital newspaper heralded their arrival in Annapolis with the headline “Suffrage Pilgrims Invade City Today.”  After meeting with the Mayor, the caravan relocated to the front of the courthouse, where the suffragists expounded on their cause before a large crowd.

Although off to an auspicious start, their luck didn’t last. As reported by the Sun paper on June 4th:

“…one of the worst storms that has visited this section in weeks has been sweeping over the State.  The thermometer has registered March temperatures instead of June mildness.  Yet dauntlessly, indefatigably, that rain-soaked wagon, fresh and new no longer is being towed through roads that experienced country travelers are shy of.  Sometimes the road is entirely erased by the flood of water that is drenching the country.  Other times, a thick clinging mud is sucking up the wheels to their very hubs.”

This miserable weather not only chilled the wagon’s passengers, who were wrapped in steamer rugs, sweaters and raincoats, it also kept the hoped-for audiences at home. The Sun reported “So far six towns have gone unconverted even partially by the caravaners. These are Edgewater, Scrabbletown, Galesville, Shadyside, Deale, and Friendship.”  

Despite these challenges, the suffragists pressed on, viewing their pilgrimage “as a sacred mission that will bear fruits in a wider demand for the vote among women and a larger sympathy among men.” The caravan received a particularly warm welcome in Prince Frederick, where the Sun reported:

“Judge Briscoe came out to greet the caravaners as the big prairie schooner arrived in the town, he handed the suffragists the key to the town, declared himself at their service and told them the Courthouse was entirely at their disposal.”  

That night, in the main courtroom, three worn-out suffragists slept on three camping cots stretched out in a row.

Finally, on June 8th, the caravan arrived in St. Mary’s City.  The St. Mary’s Beacon reported that hundreds of people had gathered on the grounds of St. Mary’s Seminary which were fluttering with “Votes for Women” pennants. The veranda of the building was used as the rostrum from which each of the five caravaners addressed the expectant crowds. After the meeting, groups of suffragists visited local historical sites including the home of Margaret Brent, the Leonard Calvert monument, and Trinity Church before beginning the second leg of their journey.  


This photo of St. Mary’s Seminary students was taken in 1915, the same year as the pilgrimage. Behind them stands the St. Mary’s Seminary Main Building, now known as Calvert Hall, from which the pilgrims addressed the crowd. Source: St. Mary’s College of Maryland Digital Archives – Historic Campus Photographs Collection.

Overall, the suffragists traveled for 23 days through Maryland’s southern counties. One participant sent back a preliminary report of their results just before the journey’s end, writing:

“[We] spoke to 2423 people, secured 343 members, and raised $65.27. The expenses are heavy and the hardships many. It takes a ‘good sport’ to be a successful campaigner. A caravaner must be prepared for all kinds of weather, all kinds of food and activity, and all degrees of response from varying audiences. Those who want to do real work can get it with us, but those who are looking for emotional thrills or a vacation should pass us by.” 

Today, a State Historic Roadside Marker commemorates this journey and all those who did the “real work” necessary in order for women to have the right to vote. It is important to note, however, that while the 19th Amendment guaranteed the freedom to vote regardless of sex, it primarily benefited white women. The fight for full voting rights for women of color in America continued for decades afterwards – for African American women, particularly in the South, this meant an ongoing struggle until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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!

Saving the Historic Sang Run Election House (Guest Blog)

By Ken Dzaack, Maintenance Program Supervisor, Deep Creek Lake State Park

The community of Sang Run, Maryland is a close-knit gathering of neighbors located along the banks of Ginseng Run in west central Garrett County.  For more than 100 years, the Friends Store, and the Sang Run Election House were at the heart of this small community.  The Election House, thought to date to 1872, was the polling place for Sang Run and the surrounding area until 1972.  It is the oldest polling place of its type in the county.  The property remained in the Friend family for more than 150 years before being gifted to the State of Maryland, eventually becoming Sang Run State Park.

EH 1920s

The Sang Run Election House in the 1920s.

At the time of its transfer to state ownership in 2007, the balloon-frame structure was in fair condition, though it exhibited some weather and vandalism damage.  Park records show that serious discussion about preservation work on the Election House began in February of 2011, followed by Maryland Historical Trust approval of a stabilization project proposal in February of 2012.  However, in the meantime, the structure began to deteriorate.  Significant funding and manpower from Deep Creek Lake State Park and community volunteers succeeded in keeping the structure from failing.  In 2015, temporary frame stabilization was installed.  With the creation of Sang Run State Park in 2017, stabilization and preservation of the Election House took on a higher priority.

In 2018, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Engineering and Construction staff, the Maryland Park Service Critical Maintenance Chief Wayne Suydam, the Deep Creek Lake State Park’s Manager Roy Musselwhite and Maintenance Program Supervisor Ken Dzaack assessed the Election House in preparation for work to begin in 2019. Using information gathered during the assessment, and the few existing historic photographs, DNR Engineering and Construction was able to develop a plan to return the election house to its original circa-1872 appearance, whereby the Maryland Park Service dedicated the resources needed to have the project completed by park service staff. The core construction team included the original assessment team plus maintenance supervisors and lead technicians Derek McFarland, Brian Buckel and Duane Stein from Rocky Gap, New Germany and Herrington Manor State Parks.

EH Prior to Restoration_Interior

Interior restoration of the Election House.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the project was locating supplies of “period-appropriate” materials.  All the original framing and siding lumber was native species, rough cut, and weathered.  After exhausting an extensive list of potential used-lumber sources, the team elected to contact an Amish-owned sawmill to supply 2 x 12 x 12 hemlock siding, batten boards, and framing lumber.  Other local milling firms supplied original pattern trim and an original pattern entry door using the required lumber species.  In another building on the property, a supply of period accurate 4-over-4 windows, with intact period glass, was located.  The rural setting of this location, and the geographic area, played a large part in being able to get accurate materials in a cost effective and timely manner.

Physical work began on the building on June 7, 2019, with removal and salvaging of all reusable material.  Because of the tight time table set for the bulk of the work on this project, the Park Service’s Western Region Maryland Conservation Corp crew was called on to participate.  After salvaging the usable material, new piers were set and new beams and a subfloor were put in place.  The walls were framed, taking care to restore the original window configuration, and the construction of the heavy hemlock roof trusses began.  The trusses were lifted and set by hand 10 feet over the floor.  The roof was sheathed with 1 X 12 lumber in keeping with the original construction methods and eventually restored with a period-accurate, custom-made standing seam metal roof. 

Because there was not enough original lumber salvaged to cover the entire building, it was decided to use the original siding on the most visible sides of the building and new Hemlock siding on the remainder.  As was done in the original construction, the siding was installed vertically.  Handling this rough-cut material by hand gave the entire crew a new appreciation for what it took to construct this building over 140 years ago.

EH Restored Exterior_Front

Sang Run Election House, restored exterior

Finally, the replacement windows were stripped and completely rebuilt at the Rocky Gap State Park shop.  The glass and old finish was removed.  Damaged wood was removed and new pieces installed.  The original glass was cleaned, replaced, pointed, and glazed.   New, original design exterior shutters also were built at Rocky Gap. In time, the crew addressed interior surfaces, including new red oak hardwood flooring, as well as period-appropriate trim. On April 23, 2020, the project was considered 100% complete.  The core construction crew individuals received a Maryland Park Service Superintendent’s Commendation Award. This read, in part: “Your efforts have distinguished yourself and the Maryland Park Service as we advance the long-term preservation of this significant historical landmark.”

The Sang Run Election House’s historic significance to the area could be best characterized by an anecdote from a bygone election: While counting ballots some officials wanted to declare a winner, another official halted the declaration by reminding them that the votes from Sang Run had not arrived yet.  Evidently, the voting power of the area was substantial!  Resident feeling for the Sang Run Election House was emphasized during the project by the constant arrival of folks who talked about their memories of the building, expressing their appreciation of its being preserved.  Several people remembered casting their first ballot in the building. Many others remember, as children, going on Election Day so their parents could vote.  

The completed Sang Run Election House at Sang Run State Park will be used for interpretive programs and special events. Come see us!

Year One of PreserveMaryland II, the Statewide Preservation Plan

By Nell Ziehl, Chief, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

After nearly a year and a half of public meetings, hundreds of comments, drafts and redrafts and reviews, the National Park Service approved PreserveMaryland II, Maryland’s statewide preservation plan, in July 2019. The plan, which runs through 2023, serves as a guidance document for everyone engaged in historic preservation and cultural heritage activities in Maryland. As noted in the plan (Goal 4), we had hoped to have an annual meeting to report out on the Maryland Historical Trust’s activities for the year and to hear from partners and constituents about their progress. At the time, I envisioned that those meetings, held in partnership with allied organizations, would occur around the state and allow for continued transparency, while also providing us an opportunity to receive feedback and – if necessary – adjust course. Unfortunately, given the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to put that and many other outreach meetings on hold. Instead, this May, in honor of Preservation Month, we have compiled some of our highlights from the first year, and we would love to hear from you about any projects you’d like to share!

Goal 1: Connect with Broader Audiences

In 2020 – like all of you – we have had to focus on virtual connection. Building on our previous successes with Black History Month posts, we created daily blog and social media content for Women’s History Month in March, Archeology Month in April, and Preservation Month in May. We also expanded our social media platforms to include Instagram – check us out at @mdhistoricaltrust!


MHT’s new Instagram page @mdhistoricaltrust

Responding to public feedback related to diversity and inclusion in decision-making, and in an effort to collaborate more closely with communities who may be underrepresented in the Maryland Heritage Areas Program, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) worked with constituent groups and organizations, including the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, to remake its grants review panel. This effort included an open public recruitment and vetting to prioritize diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The first review of applications by the new panel, which makes recommendations to the MHAA for funding, is currently underway. MHAA is also in the process of convening a working group to address issues of diversity and inclusion. The working group will be made up of MHAA members, local heritage area staff, and representatives from the Governor’s Ethnic and Cultural Commissions.

Goal 2: Improving the Framework for Preservation

By popular request, MHT has continued to make enhancements to its grants programs to improve accessibility and ease of use. In 2019 and 2020, we eliminated the financial reporting requirement to provide proof of payment and allowed most extensions and amendments to be processed via email. MHAA, which has by far the largest pool of funding among the MHT-administered grant programs, has instituted a “spot check” system, requiring grantees to retain financial information but only provide it for review if randomly selected. These changes add up to dramatic time savings and reduced burden for grantees. MHAA is also evaluating the ability to reduce or eliminate match requirements, as the Certified Local Government program has done, with the goal of expanding access to funding for those organizations that may need it most.


Medusa will soon have enhanced searching capacity to improve research.

Following the successful launch of the Medusa application, which made the state’s cultural resources information available in a map-based, user-friendly format, MHT is continuing to expand its online research and service capacity. We are currently working on enhanced searchability of Medusa data (for example, to allow searches by architectural category or dates) and, even before the pandemic hit, we had started developing an online submission form for historic preservation project review and compliance.

Goal 3: Expand and Update Documentation

Many of PreserveMaryland II’s strategies to expand and update documentation address gaps in our data related to marginalized communities. In 2019 and 2020, we have partnered with Preservation Maryland on a project to research LGBTQ history in Maryland, which will result in a historic context study for the state, as well as in-depth documentation of properties associated with the LGBTQ community in Montgomery County and Baltimore City. We have also received funding from the National Park Service to support research into the Women’s Suffrage movement around the state, as well as funds from the MHT Board of Trustees to support an internship focused on a historic context of Chinese Americans in Baltimore.


Carroll County dairy barn. Photo credit: Marcia Miller

MHT recently embarked on an effort with the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design to document historic dairy farms in Cecil, Carroll, and Frederick counties over the next two years. Learn more about the project here.

Goal 4: Build Capacity and Strengthen Networks

Although we have not been able to move forward with many of the workshops and trainings proposed under this goal, we have been responsive to the COVID-19 situation in a variety of ways. We have translated our grants workshops into webinars and held public meetings using platforms such as WebEx. MHT and MHAA surveyed cultural heritage organizations and institutions to assess COVID-19 impacts, and MHAA initiated an emergency grant round in response. (Learn more about the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s COVID-19 response here.) At Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, our staff have worked hard to produce virtual educational opportunities, including “STEAM Sunday,” “Plant of the Week,” and a “Lunchtime Learning” series on Facebook Live.


To build awareness of historic preservation and cultural resources in new professional circles, MHT developed and produced trainings related to climate change and cultural heritage for Maryland’s Climate Leadership Academy and for the 2019 APA Maryland conference. Following the 2019 release of Planning for Maryland’s Flood-Prone Archeological Resources, MHT will be developing new trainings for local governments and archaeologists interested in the topic.

Goal 5: Collaborate Toward Shared Objectives

Recognizing the challenges inherent in the redevelopment of formerly government-owned historic campuses in Maryland, and following the passage of Senate Bill 741 in 2019, the Maryland Department of Planning contracted with a team consisting of Widell Preservation Services, LLC; BAE Urban Economics, Inc.; and Sparks Engineering, Inc. to study this issue and provide recommendations.  The resulting report, Advancing the Preservation and Reuse of Maryland’s Historic Complexes, identified completed campus reuse projects in our state and beyond, evaluating their effectiveness and proposing measures which could improve the redevelopment of such projects in Maryland in the future.  A steering committee for the project, chaired by Rob McCord, Secretary of Planning, included Senator Katie Fry Hester; Delegate Regina Boyce; Nick Redding, Executive Director of Preservation Maryland, and John Renner, Vice President of Development at Cross Street Partners. Other agency partners also took part in monthly meetings of the steering committee.  

Complexes report

January 2020 report issued to Planning on the redevelopment of former campuses

Following PreserveMaryland II objectives and strategies, MHT has partnered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to conduct architectural and archeological assessments of DNR-controlled properties. Recent survey locations include Billingsley, the core of a 700 acre land grant patented in the 1660s to Major John Billingsley and the last documented location of the Mataponi and Patuxent Indians in the Archives of Maryland (Prince George’s County); Fishing Bay, the focus of a Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant from MHT to the Chesapeake Watershed Archaeological Research Foundation to complete a coastal archaeological survey of the watershed (Dorchester County); and Fort Frederick State Park, where a team discovered cultural resources associated with the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp that housed the workers who restored Fort Frederick, as well as a road trace that may indicate where a small colonial town was positioned (Washington County).

We hope you enjoyed our virtual #PreservationMonth this May and look forward to hosting our 2021 preservation plan update in person! Thanks for everything you do to advance historic preservation and cultural heritage in Maryland.

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] 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: 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 


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.”