History in the Making for Maryland Women

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Perhaps more Maryland residents will learn the story of Belva Ann Lockwood, who was not only a lawyer in the 1880s, when few women practiced law, but the first to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. She even announced a bid for the U.S. presidency, from a farm in Landover.

Or maybe people across the state will acquire a deeper understanding of women in modern times through the life of Brenda Frese, the championship-winning coach of the University of Maryland women's basketball team in 2006.

If efforts go as planned, both of these storied lives -- and many others -- will come into vivid view at the Maryland Women's Heritage Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan museum and interactive educational center that intends to honor a range of Maryland women, past and present.

The museum may ultimately illuminate the lives of women who worked the Chesapeake Bay; craftswomen and farming women of southern and western Maryland; the Rosie the Riveters who worked in factories during World War II; female civil rights leaders; Native American women; and women who toiled as educators and volunteers.

The heritage center has been planned since 2004, and a site-selection committee is poised to choose a location within three months, in Baltimore or Annapolis. Maryland lawmakers have committed $500,000 to the project over two years, and other fundraising efforts are underway.

"What we're creating in Maryland is, as far as we know, the first in the U.S. of its kind," said Jill Moss Greenberg of University Park, founding executive director. "We're hoping what we create can serve as a template, a national model that other places can follow."

When it opens, around 2009, Greenberg and others hope that the heritage center will help Marylanders better understand their past and their possibilities. "We're kind of reframing history," she said. Now, she said, "history is 'his story,' and we're adding 'her story' to that, so that history will be whole."

A capital fundraising campaign will begin after the museum site is finalized and the total cost is more clear, said Linda Shevitz of Greenbelt, a founding member. "Until we know whether we're leasing or buying, it's hard to put a price tag on it," she said.

The heritage center will focus on women of historic achievement and "unsung heroines," Shevitz said. The idea is to include women across all regions, age groups, races, ethnicities and economic classes, including those with disabilities, to represent all the women in Maryland.

"People just don't seem to know a lot about the contributions that women have made," said Rita Robinson of Clinton, a board member who teaches at Bowie State University. "It's just not on our radar screen, and we think that's something we can help to correct."

Robinson has helped lead focus groups about the project -- with college students and educators, among others -- and has been impressed by the reception.

"People see the center as a place where people can be educated. Not just women, but everybody," she said.

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