A Lesson in Maryland Her-Story
Maryland is home to countless people who helped shape the United States’ history, including many women.
It seems only fitting that in a state named for a woman, we highlight some of the ladies who made history here. (King Charles I, under whose rule the colony was founded in 1634, stipulated that it must be named for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. The colony was dubbed Terra Mariae, which translates to Mary Land.)
The lives of 10 women who turned the tides of history can be further explored at Maryland tourism sites as outlined below. Please contact the sites to determine days and hours of operation. In some cases, the sites are open seasonally.
Information about these sites is also available by calling 800-719-5900 and requesting a free Maryland Travel Kit or by visiting www.visitmaryland.org.
Clara Barton National Historic Site
5801 Oxford Road
Glen Echo, MD 20812
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Clara Barton resigned her position as a clerk in the U.S. Patents Office in Washington, D.C., to work as volunteer collecting supplies for soldiers. In 1862 she received permission to take those supplies directly to the front and as a result witnessed first-hand the suffering and tragedy of war. It was through her travels in Europe after the Civil War, while she was recuperating from her own medical ailments, that she learned of the Red Cross movement. In 1881, she founded the American Red Cross and served as its first president. The house that is today the Clara Barton National Historic Site was the organization’s first headquarters, a warehouse for disaster relief supplies and Barton’s home.
Historic St. Mary’s City
Route 5 and Rosecroft Road
St. Mary’s City, MD 20686
Margaret Brent and some of her siblings arrived in the then-capital of Maryland, St. Mary’s City, in 1638. They were fleeing religious persecution in England and seeking entrepreneurial opportunities in the New World. Brent began acquiring land and conducting business as a single woman, and the colony’s governor, Leonard Calvert, noticed her skills. When he died in 1647, Calvert entrusted his personal estate to Brent and left her with the burden of settling the financial affairs of the young colony. Her courage and diplomacy as executrix allowed the colony to survive a difficult time in its development. In 1648, Brent requested “vote and voice” in the Assembly and was denied. But she has gone down in history as the first woman to officially ask for the vote in English North America. She is memorialized at Historic St. Mary’s City, a living history museum that celebrates the founding of Maryland.
Anna Ella Carroll
Old Trinity Church
1718 Taylor’s Island Road
Church Creek, MD 21622
Anna Ella Carroll was the daughter of a Maryland governor and a descendant of one of Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence. She used her writing skills and political connections to craft a public relations career, and she worked with a variety of political parties. She is best noted for her connection with Abraham Lincoln, and she is referred to as the “silent member” of Lincoln’s cabinet. At a time when women were not permitted to vote, Carroll had an incredible amount of influence within the highest spheres of government. Carroll is buried with other family members at the Old Trinity Church and is memorialized with both a simple tombstone and a gravestone erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Barbara Fritchie House and Museum Mount Olivet Cemetery
154 W. Patrick Street 515 S. Market Street
Frederick, MD 21701 Frederick, MD 21701
The present-day Fritchie House was built in 1927 to replace the original home, which was destroyed by flooding. It was from an upper window in her home that Fritchie is reported to have waved a Union flag while General Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate troops marched through the town during the Civil War in 1862. According to local legend, feisty Fritchie, who was 95 years old at the time, continued to wave her flag despite threats from the Confederates. She so impressed Jackson with her spunk and loyalty to the Union that he instructed his troops to spare Fritchie and her home. She was immortalized in John Greenleaf Whittier’s patriotic poem “The Ballad of Barbara Fritchie.” Though it is generally agreed that this story has been embellished, Fritchie is still considered a local hero. A giant stone on which the poem is engraved marks her grave at Mount Olivet Cemetery – and a large American flag flies prominently at the site.
Kitty Knight House
14028 Augustine Herman Way
Georgetown, MD 21930
Kitty Knight did much the same thing that Barbara Fritchie did – but in a different war and at a substantially younger age. Knight was from a prominent family and was noted for her beauty and grace. It was during the War of 1812, when the British were invading Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that Knight became known for her courage, too. As British forces under the direction of Admiral Cockburn began burning homes in Knight’s hometown of Georgetown, she pleaded for the safety of an old woman who lived in one house – and is reported to have put out the flames herself twice. She managed to convince Cockburn to spare the area and is credited with saving her town. She later bought one of the houses that she saved that day, and it now operates as an inn and restaurant.
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House
844 E. Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Mary Pickersgill is the woman who sewed the enormous flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. It was this flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Pickersgill was a widow and single mother who earned her living as a seamstress. Pickersgill worked day and night to create a flag of the dimensions ordered by the fort’s commanding officer and was paid $405.90 for her efforts. Her home has been converted into a museum that depicts her life and the causes and effects of the War of 1812. The museum recently underwent an expansion, the highlight of which is a 30-by-42-foot Great Flag Window that is the same size, color and design of the original Star-Spangled Banner.
Turkey Point Lighthouse at Elk Neck State Park and Forest
4395 Turkey Point Road
North East, MD 21901
The 35-foot conical Turkey Point Lighthouse – the highest lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay – stands on craggy cliffs overlooking tributaries to the bay. The lighthouse was tended by a number of female keepers, but it was the last one, Fannie Salter, who made the biggest impact. Her husband Harry died just two years into his term as lighthouse keeper. Salter applied for the keeper’s job and was denied because officials believed that her age (42) and role as single mother of three would interfere with her work. She filed an appeal that eventually reached President Calvin Coolidge, and she was given the job. She became legendary for being the “last lady light keeper” in the United States. When she retired in 1948 at the age of 64, the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the keeper’s house was closed. Visitors to the state park can still hike out to the lighthouse.
Elizabeth Ann Seton
National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Mother Seton House
333 S. Seton Avenue 600 N. Paca Street
Emmitsburg, MD 21727 Baltimore, MD 21201
Elizabeth Ann Bayley, born to wealth and privilege in New York, was widowed by her husband William Seton at a young age and afterwards dedicated her life to service to the Catholic church. She established a girls’ school in Baltimore in 1808 and soon moved it to the town of Emmitsburg. It was here that she officially established the order of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, and the St. Joseph School became the first parochial school in the United States. The legacy she began now includes schools, orphanages and hospitals throughout the world. She was canonized on September 14, 1975, making her the first native-born North American to become a saint. Her life is examined at both the shrine in Emmitsburg, where she spent much of her life, and in the Baltimore home where she spent one year.
Surratt House Museum
9118 Brandywine Road
Clinton, MD 20735
Mary Surratt is perhaps the most “infamous” of the ladies on this list. She was found guilty of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to kill President Abraham Lincoln. In 1852, Surratt’s husband John built a structure that eventually served a variety of functions – tavern, hostelry, post office and polling place. The Surratts were Southern sympathizers, and their home was a “safe house” for Confederates passing through the area. John Surratt died in 1862, leaving Mary to run the tavern. She was very unsuccessful in this venture, and eventually rented the site to a man named John Lloyd so she could move to a townhouse in Washington, D.C., and begin operating it as a boardinghouse. When Lincoln was killed, it was Lloyd who sealed Surratt’s fate. He testified that she had asked him to provide supplies for Booth and his accomplice, David Herold. Surratt was hanged, thus earning the distinction of being the first woman executed in the United States.
Harriet Tubman Museum Birthplace of Harriet Tubman
424 Race Road Greenbriar Road
Cambridge, MD 21613 Cambridge, MD 21613
Known as the “Moses of Her People,” Harriet Tubman helped more than 300 slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Tubman was born on a farm in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She escaped slavery at the age of 29, but returned to the South 19 times to help others to freedom. It is reported that the “trains” she ran on the Underground Railroad never lost a passenger. During the Civil War, she also worked as a spy for the United States Intelligence Department and as a nurse in the Union camps. Her life is explored at the museum in downtown Cambridge and her birthplace is marked with a simple sign. In addition, she is honored at a park along Route 50 in Cambridge and she is among the leaders memorialized at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.