By Heather Barrett, adapted by Pamela Young, PhD
A lifetime of community work and devotion still lives on in Carroll County
Mary Bostwick Shellman was a prominent citizen of Westminster, the Carroll County seat, who led many significant efforts of community activism and improvement locally in Carroll County and to bring enfranchisement to the women of Maryland. She was a founder and first President of the Just Government League (JGL) chapter of Carroll County.
The JGL, founded in 1909 in Baltimore, became the largest women’s suffrage organization in Maryland by successful expansion across Maryland through grassroots organizing. Westminster was one of those towns, where in 1913 a JGL Field Secretary spoke at a public meeting, describing the state and nationwide efforts for women’s enfranchisement and urging that a chapter of the JGL be established there. By the end of that meeting, the Carroll County chapter was established and had elected Mary Shellman as its President.[i]
The organizers, including Mary, numbered 11 women at their initial gathering, but had grown to 40 members within a month, necessitating the first public meeting to be held in the Opera House. The local chapter, led by Mary Shellman, then set about the local organizing efforts of holding public education meetings featuring pro-suffrage speakers, petition drives, membership recruitment events, letter-writing campaigns and general advocacy for their cause of women’s suffrage.[ii] As a chapter president in the Just Government League, Mary coordinated local efforts with statewide campaigns and national events.
In September, 1920 following the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enfranchising American women, the Carroll County JGL chapter offered a “school of citizenship” at the Westminster Armory to educate new voters. Over 200 women attended, receiving guidance on the importance of the ballot and the voting process. In conjunction with the Presidential election that year, the Republican Party provided “instruction rooms” near each polling place, where sample ballots were provided and knowledgeable voters offered assistance. Mary Shellman offered her house as one of the instruction rooms.[iii]
In addition to her suffrage activism, Shellman was a leader in numerous local and national reform movements, including advocacy for better care for residents of the county’s almshouse and work on behalf of Civil War veterans. In 1868 she organized the first Memorial Day observance in Carroll County, and continued to serve as master of ceremonies for this annual event for decades.[iv] She also held memberships in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union,[v] and the League of Republican Women of Maryland.[vi] As an employed woman, she served as the first manager of the Westminster Division, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, where she oversaw finances and worked as an operator.
Mary Bostwick Shellman died in 1938. Her home, the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House is a testament to her legacy in Westminster and Carroll County. It now serves as the home and museum of the Historical Society of Carroll County, which was established in 1939 to save this historic landmark from demolition.[vii]
[i]The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD), January 23, 1914
[iii] The Times, October 1 and 29, 1920. Breaking Barriers. 2020, Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD.
[iv] The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD), May 31, 1912 and June 4, 1920.
[v] The Democratic Advocate (Westminster, MD), September 27, 1918.
[vi] The Times, October 1, 1920. Breaking Barriers. 2020, Historical Society of Carroll County, Westminster, MD.
[vii] “Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House: A Piedmont Maryland House Museum,” Westminster, MD, date unknown. Accessed at: https//hsccmd.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/SHERMAN.pdf.