Md.'s First Ladies, At Last

March 30, 1995|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

Frances Hughes Glendening recalls the story that taught her all about Helen Avalynne Tawes.

Twenty-nine years ago, Mrs. Tawes wanted to be painted alongside her husband, who happened to be governor, in his official state portrait. She was told that sort of thing just wasn't done.

Mrs. Tawes saw to it that she stayed in the picture. The artist painted her as a photograph in the background of the J. Millard Tawes portrait that now hangs in the State House reception room.

"She's a woman after my own heart," says the wife of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, relishing the anecdote. "She always got her point in there. I identify with spunk."

Yesterday, Mrs. Glendening took reporters on a tour of the Governor's Mansion to show off her first public project as first lady -- "Portraits of First Ladies & Official Hostesses of Maryland."

The 13 paintings hanging in the mansion's public rooms are the only images available of the 70 or more women who have resided in the governor's residence in Annapolis or, earlier, in St. Mary's City. They are part of a group Mrs. Glendening believes has been badly neglected by history.

"Mrs. Tawes said, 'A governor's wife comes here and works like a dog. I just feel they get so little credit, some recognition would be nice,' " said Mrs. Glendening, 43.

"I happen to agree with her," she said. "I'm sure Mrs. Tawes would be gratified to see this exhibition."

The collection represents the first time the portraits have been put together.

They range from Priscilla Dorsey Ridgely, who died in 1814 before her husband became Maryland's 15th governor, to Barbara "Bootsie" Mandel, who garnered national attention when she kicked Maryland's 56th governor out of the mansion.

Actually, most of the paintings are relatively contemporary. Mrs. Tawes commissioned five of the portraits, including her own.

Before 1981, six were seen along the mansion's staircase, but those were put in storage when first lady Patricia Hughes refurbished.

Mrs. Glendening, a Federal Election Commission lawyer who co-chaired her husband's transition team, has asked the Maryland State Archives to begin researching the history of first ladies.

She has sought volunteers to help put together a book on the topic.

Much of the first ladies' lives has gone unchronicled. But many of them were active in politics, social causes and volunteer work, and some held jobs, she said.

"A lot of people don't realize the things they have done," said Mrs. Glendening, who would also like to see books written on the history of the mansion and "women of achievement" in the state.

The exhibit reflects some delicate etiquette. The title includes the plural "hostesses" as a polite way not to single out the only person who has held that title, Hilda Mae Snoops, the longtime companion of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Mrs. Glendening also expressed interest in acquiring portraits of Marvin Mandel's second wife, Jeanne, and Mathilde "Mimi" Lee, wife of the late former acting Gov. Blair Lee III.

"It is Mrs. Glendening's hope that by calling attention to the portraits we do have, we can attract additional donations," said Edward C. Papenfuse, state archivist.

The exhibit can be viewed by the public through the summer. Tours are available between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and, after April 10, on Wednesdays also.

Reservations must be made by calling 974-3531.

Legislation expected to be approved shortly by the General Assembly will restore the mansion's earlier name, Government House.

Mrs. Glendening said she wants more public involvement in decisions about the state property.

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