By Lauren R. Silberman
The History Press (2015)

Many women who came of age before the 1970s may have felt they had few options in life. They could be teachers, nurses, secretaries, cashiers, housewives, and the like. This well-researched volume focusing on many unusual Maryland women shows that, throughout the state’s history, many have broken with these restrictive societal expectations. Silberman details the accomplishments of female pioneers, soldiers, smugglers, spies, freedom fighters, abolitionists, suffragists, politicians, journalists, authors, business women, public servants, aviators and even an Antarctic explorer. Famous Maryland women, both admirable and notorious are documented. Silberman also delves into strange accounts of witches, princesses, and criminal suspects.

Some historically notable women, like Harriet Tubman, are well known to all, but have you heard about the Mitchell sisters, Juanita and Virginia, who in the 1930s, frustrated with discriminatory practices, organized a young peoples’ forum that staged the effective boycott, “Buy Where You Can Work” in Baltimore? Their mother Lillie lead the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP for thirty-five years. Another woman, Gloria Dandridge headed the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee which fought for civil rights in that city.

Maryland also boasts the first suffragette, Margaret Brent, a property owner and business woman in St. Mary’s City. In 1648, she petitioned the colonial assembly for the right to vote and be on equal footing with male property owners. She was of course denied. Later, in the early 20th century, Edith Hooker led the Just Government League, one of many such organizations throughout the country advocating for women’s voting rights, which eventually lead to the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This paved the way not just for voting but women candidates for office. Of note in Maryland is Barbara Mikulski who would serve on the Baltimore City Council, the U.S. House of Representatives, and eventually the U.S. Senate.

It is perhaps not well known that Ocean City became a bustling resort due to enterprising women. Before the 1890s it was small fishing village. It was then that women began renting rooms in their homes and eventually running boarding houses for vacationers. By 1926, there were thirty-two hotels, thirty of which were owned by women. Women also historically ran taverns throughout the state.

Reading this book you can find out a lot of interesting facts about such notables as Mary Pickersgill, Wallace Simpson, Madalyn Murray O’Hare, and Blaze Starr. You can also learn the truth about Barbara Frietchie. Did she really exist? And if so did she really say, “Shoot if you must this old gray head …?” Who was the female Antarctic explorer? Was The “Blair Witch Project” movie about a real historical witch?

Wild Women of Maryland is well researched and documented. Silberman includes photographs and quotes form original sources such as the archives of Library of Congress, and the Maryland Historical Society, as well as newspapers and magazines. An extensive bibliography of historical publications is also included. This volume will be useful for those engaged in academic research, as well as being appealing to those who are merely curious about these most intriguing women and their role in Maryland history.

— Kathi Edwards

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Kathi Edwards

Kathi is a retired elementary school science lab teacher. She spends her time volunteering at a CareNet pregnancy center, teaching Sunday school, playing handbells, and singing in her church choir.