Assignment was a Maryland first


March 24, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Vivian V. Simpson, a Rockville attorney and champion of female rights, made Maryland history when she was appointed Maryland's first female secretary of state by Gov. William Preston Lane in 1949. She remained in office until 1951.

At her swearing-in ceremony that December, some 700 Democrats and Republicans jammed the House of Delegates chamber. Most were women.

"It is a great moment in the history of Maryland," said India Edwards, director of the women's division of the Democratic National Committee.

"I am deeply gratified by the confidence which the Governor has reposed in me," said Simpson, dressed for the ceremony in a black wool suit highlighted with a corsage of orchids and wearing a large picture-window hat covered in pink roses.

Simpson, 46, initially had to overcome a rumor that suggested that she was a "man hater."

"Actually, I'm very fond of men," she told the Evening Sun.

"And why shouldn't she be fond of the men?" asked the newspaper. "Didn't one of them appoint her to her present position of honor? Didn't the boys out in Montgomery County elect her to be the first woman president of their bar association and declare a one-day holiday for the courts the day she was sworn in as secretary of state?

"Vivian gets on beautifully with the opposite sex. For seven years she served as the first woman member of the State Industrial Accident Commission and at the time of her appointment to her present post, was vice chairman of the commission appointed to study the workmen's compensation laws of the State," observed the newspaper.

The Washington native, who later attended the University of Maryland, caused a sensation by flaunting university rules at College Park in the early 1920s.

She was charged by university officials with ignoring rules regarding signing out of the women's dormitory, "making fudge after lights out," and wearing "kimonos at an improper time."

"She did not make the fudge, she confided yesterday. She merely ate it. Vivian is no cook. It was a roommate who made the stuff. Why, she recalls, her fellow culprit often accused her of `being long on the eating and short on the beating.' And how true it was, she confirms," reported the Evening Sun.

Simpson left U of M for George Washington University, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1925 and a law degree in 1927. She was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1928 and later opened a law office in Rockville.

In 1940, she was the first woman to be named a commissioner to the State Industrial Accident Commission by Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor. The commission adjudicated cases involving persons injured in extra-hazardous employment. She resigned in 1948.

One of her responsibilities as secretary of state was to attest to the authenticity of the governor's signature.

However, Simpson admitted to reporters, she could not type.

"She had a feeling, she related, that if she learned to type she would wind up a stenographer. She didn't want to be a stenographer. She wanted to be a lawyer. So she just never learned to type." said the Evening Sun.

An editorial in The Sun at the time said: "The title of Secretary of State is an impressive one, but the duties that go with the office are neither intellectually exacting or burdensome. The secretary is custodian of the great seal, attests the governor's signature, does other kinds of certifying, and is custodian of various official records. ... The gallantry popularly accorded to all Maryland men demands that they welcome the opportunity of Miss Simpson with open arms."

Active in Democratic politics, Simpson urged her female supporters to "Get young blood in your organizations" and reminded them of the "dignity of doorbell pushing."

After returning to private practice, she served as vice president of the Maryland State Bar in 1958 and in 1959.

Maryland would not have another female secretary of state after Simpson's departure for 31 years, and has only had three in the position since the office was created in 1838.

In 1982, Gov. Harry R. Hughes appointed Patricia G. Holtz to the office, and she was followed by Lorraine M. Sheehan in 1983.

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