Blanche D. Hughes, a teacher of French and Spanish who helped save Baltimore's historic Orchard Street Church, died of Alzheimer's disease Monday at the home of her daughter in Columbia. The former Baltimore resident was 96.
In the 1960s, as the congregation was moving to a new home, Mrs. Hughes alerted the community to the significance of the old Orchard Street Methodist Church in Seton Hill. Because of her passion for local and Methodist history, she was elected chairwoman of the Committee for the Preservation of the Orchard Street Church.
Today, after a multimillion-dollar restoration, the old sanctuary is home to the Baltimore Urban League.
Born Miriam Blanche Dogan in Marshall, Texas, she was the daughter of Wiley College President Matthew Winfred Dogan and Fannie Forrest Falkner, a first cousin of novelist William Faulkner.
She was a 1926 Wiley College graduate and studied Romance languages at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She was credited with forcing the integration of the university's swimming pool, which was closed to African-Americans though they had to pass a swimming requirement to graduate.
"The student organization chose her to speak to the college president," said daughter Alfreda Hughes of Columbia. "When she told him that her father was on the board of education of the Methodist church which governed the school -- and she was going to tell him -- the policy was changed."
On June 24, 1931, she married William Alfred Carroll Hughes, a Boston-educated attorney who practiced in Baltimore and worked with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The couple moved to the 1800 block of Madison Ave. in Northwest Baltimore and later had homes on McCulloh Street and on Arunah Avenue. Mr. Hughes died in 1966.
In the 1930s, she taught French and Spanish at what is now Morgan State University and kept an interest in her husband's legal career, which focused on the poor and the struggle for civil rights.
"My mother said that she always stayed up at night with him as he opened his books on the dining room table," her daughter recalled. "She didn't want him to be alone."
Active in many groups, Mrs. Hughes was a charter member and president of the Baltimore chapter of the Jack and Jill Club of America Inc.
With friends, she organized the Cornelias, a child study club associated with the Child Study Association of Maryland. She was also a board member of the Children's Theater Association and served eight years as a board member of the local YWCA.
She was a consultant to the Baltimore public schools' division of adult and secondary education for parent education and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Funeral services were held yesterday at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church.
Other survivors include a daughter, Miriam Hughes Raymond of Washington; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.