Mary-Paulding Martin

[ Age 94 ] Historian and neighborhood activist published a book of poetry about her life and her love of Baltimore

January 09, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Mary-Paulding Martin, a writer, neighborhood activist and former director of Baltimore's Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, died of pneumonia Friday at Roland Park Place. She was 94.

Born in Norfolk, Va., and raised in Portsmouth, Va., Mary-Paulding Murdoch was a descendant of Pocahontas and a great-great-great-granddaughter of 19th-century Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

She earned a bachelor's degree in English from Sweet Briar College in Virginia in 1933 and four years later married architect Hugh McDonald Martin. The couple moved to the Bolton Hill neighborhood in 1950.

Mrs. Martin taught briefly at Garrison Forest School and was an English teacher at Notre Dame Preparatory School from 1960 to 1965, when she began a 15-year tenure as director of the Flag House.

She gained National Historic Landmark status for the house, where seamstress Mary Pickersgill sewed the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the British bombardment of 1814 and that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen what became the national anthem.

She also designed and developed the Flag House garden and published several historical booklets about the museum, including The Flag House Story and a monograph on Francis Scott Key.

Mrs. Martin was just as passionate about Bolton Hill, where she lived in a Victorian townhouse in the 1400 block of Park Ave. for 46 years until moving to Roland Park Place in 1996.

As the first woman to be elected president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, Mrs. Martin gained a reputation as a formidable advocate for the neighborhood, and because of her work on its behalf picked up the nickname "Mrs. Bolton Hill."

"I think the basic friendliness of Bolton Hill is akin to godliness," she told Baltimore Magazine in a 1973 article. "Everyone here speaks to each other, even though they haven't met, simply because we're all neighbors. It's an incredibly friendly spirit here, like no place I've ever been to. As a result, it's impossible not to get involved."

She dealt with zoning issues and beautification projects, and implored residents to get the license numbers and company names of heavy trucks traversing neighborhood streets in violation of a city ordinance.

When a heliport was proposed for the roof of the 5th Regiment Armory in the early 1970s, Mrs. Martin led the association's successful battle against it.

"Our constant fight is to keep this area a good place to live in. And when we're all united on an issue, I defy anyone to try and defeat us," she told Baltimore Magazine.

"She was a character, of which Bolton Hill has many. If she had a problem, she'd bake a tray of brownies and go right on downtown to City Hall and see her friend William Donald Schaefer," said longtime friend and retired attorney Suzanne R. Sherwood.

"When an intern or some other assistant inquired if she had an appointment to see the mayor, she'd go right on in. She didn't like dealing with what she called `middle men,' and always went right to the top," Mrs. Sherwood said.

"Bolton Hill is to a large extent what it is because of people like Mary-Paulding Martin. She was an incredible person," said the Rev. F. Lyman "Barney" Farnham, former rector of Memorial Episcopal Church at Bolton Street and Lafayette Avenue. "She was a feisty person and most of the time got what she wanted."

Mrs. Martin wrote the history of Memorial Episcopal, where she was an active communicant; a history of the improvement association; and Look Homeward Historian, a history of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Maryland, of which she was a member.

In 1995, she published a book of poetry, Verses From My Marble Steps, which chronicled her life and her love for her adopted city, as well as odes to local politicians.

"I didn't want to come here at all," Mrs. Martin told The Sun in 1995. "But I fell in love with it, the buildings, the waterfront, the neighborhoods."

"Her home, like her poems, invites you to come in for a spell, sit on her veranda by the Magnolia tree and enjoy a cool glass of water and her memories," a Sun reporter wrote of Mrs. Martin's antique-filled home.

Mrs. Martin loved literature and language, and could recite the introductory lines of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and countless Shakespearean stanzas, family members said.

She was an avid gardener and a member of the Bolton Hill Garden Club and the National Society of Parliamentarians.

She had served on the vestry, been president of the Women's Auxiliary, and was a founder of the Parish Social Club at Memorial Episcopal, where her memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Her husband died in 1986.

Surviving are two daughters, Rebecca Marshall Martin Anderson of Guilford, Vt., and Emma Healy Martin Halpert of Philadelphia; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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