Women who put Maryland on the map


March 07, 2002|By Donna Owens | Donna Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They are women you know, or should know.

Women of courage, intelligence, vision - "she-roes" who have broken ground and, occasionally, the rules, to make this world a better - or at least more interesting - place.

We celebrate their achievements throughout March - National Women's History Month.

The seed for the celebration was planted back in 1978, when a group of teachers in Sonoma County, Calif., set aside a week to recognize women's history. Three years later, Barbara Mikulski (then a Maryland congresswoman) helped co-sponsor a national resolution to recognize the week.

From there, organizations such as the California-based National Women's History Project lobbied Congress to designate an entire month for celebrating women's achievements.

Their work paid off. In 1987, Women's History Month became official nationally.

"[The month] focuses people's attention on women and their experiences," says Susanne M. DeBerry Cole, a historian and associate director of adult programs at the Maryland Historical Society.

"Some might argue that we don't need a month for black history or women. But we still have a ways to go in recognizing that these `great white men' did not operate in a vacuum."

The national theme for Women's History Month 2002 is "Women Sustaining the American Spirit." With that in mind, we scoured the state seeking intriguing attractions and sites that pay tribute to some of Maryland's grand women - famous and should-be-famous women who upheld the American spirit in in their life time. Some of the women lived in Maryland all their lives, others came here as adults and still others called Maryland home only for a short time.

We found everything from museums and historic houses to a highway marker, a bronze statue and even a lighthouse. In the roundup, the name of each woman is followed by the related attraction or site.

Baltimore City

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton

Mother Seton House

The life of a saint does not necessarily begin with hardship. Seton, the first American-born Catholic saint, was born in 1774 into a wealthy Episcopalian family, and later married a prosperous sea merchant.

After her husband's untimely death, the young Seton made a life-altering conversion to Catholicism (1805). She started a school for women in New York, but persecution there and an invitation from Archbishop John Carroll led Seton to Maryland.

The founder of the Sisters of Charity, Seton spent a year (1808-1809) living in a house on Baltimore's Paca Street. The dwelling is now a museum called the Mother Seton House. 600 N. Paca St. Open weekends and by appointment. Call 410-523-3443.

(Note: See the Frederick County entry for more on Seton, who spent the rest of her life in Maryland and was canonized in 1975.)

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday Park

She sang of life, love and longing, her distinctive, raspy voice setting a standard for today's jazz artists. Born Eleanora Fagan in April 1915 in Baltimore, Billie Holiday first recorded with bandleader Benny Goodman in 1933. Despite a brilliant career, her tumultuous life ended in blur of drug addiction and personal pain.

"Lady Day" lives on in Baltimore in a tiny park situated along Pennsylvania Avenue (between Lanvale Street and Lafayette Avenue). Immortalized in a striking bronze statue, the singer seems real enough to begin singing ... "God bless the child who's got his own."

Verda Freeman Welcome

Verda Welcome Bridge

A beloved and respected politician and community and civil-rights activist, Welcome was a woman of many firsts. The North Carolina native arrived in Baltimore in the late 1920s to continue her education and begin her path to political distinction.

In 1959, she became the first black woman elected to Maryland's House of Delegates. In '62, she went on to the state Senate, becoming the first African-American state senator in the country. She used the power of legislation to address discrimination and other inequities.

Educated at what is now Coppin State College and Morgan State University, Welcome also taught school in Baltimore for more than a decade.

A bridge that connects the two sides of Morgan's East Coldspring Lane campus bears the name of Verda Welcome.

Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange

Mother Mary Lange Monument

A native of Haiti, Lange settled in Baltimore in the 1800s, embarking on a life of religious vocation that centered on educating black children.

While perhaps best-known for founding the world's first order of black nuns, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in 1829, Lange's numerous works also include launching several Catholic schools around the nation (including St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore) and opening orphanages and homes for widows and the homeless.

Historians believe that Mother Lange was about 98 years old when she died. She is buried in the New Cathedral Cemetery in West Baltimore. Efforts began in 1991 to make her a saint.

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