Welcome, who represented Baltimore, fought for interracial marriage, equal pay for woman, banning harassment of welfare recipients and barring racial discrimination in public places. Her daughter, Mary Sue Welcome, attended the portrait unveiling and recalled spending time with her mother around the Senate chambers more than half a century ago.
She started to thank the members of the state Senate but had to stop to gather herself.
“This,” she said, pausing. “This is amazing.”
“The public display of portraits is meaningful,” State Archivist Timothy D. Baker said during the ceremony. “The images have an importance that transcends the painted canvas.”
The portrait hanging was the latest in a spate of changes to modernize an institution steeped in history. The General Assembly’s new, younger and more diverse leaders have, among other things, added more bathrooms for female lawmakers and put more people of color into the highest positions of power.
Change is stirring across the Potomac River in Virginia as well. There, a new Democratic majority chose the first female House speaker and the first female and first African American Senate president pro tempore. On Thursday, Virginia House Democrats changed the pronouns in their governance rules from the masculine to the feminine.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, who took over the chamber’s top job last week, made hanging Welcome’s portrait on the back wall of the Senate one of his first official acts.
One of 16 children, Welcome spent 25 years in the legislature, surviving an assassination attempt during her first term as a senator. She died in 1990, at age 83.
Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said a group of eighth-graders from his district toured the State House four years ago and later wrote him letters asking why there was no one on the walls who looked like them.
He read aloud a passage from one girl: “Not to see myself in the history of Maryland made me sad.”
Ferguson also replaced a second portrait of another long-ago governor with a youthful portrayal of Ferguson’s predecessor, Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whose 33-year tenure made him the nation’s longest-serving state senate president.
The portraits of former governors Edwin Warfield and John Walter Smith will be taken down, cleaned and conserved before getting new homes in the state’s collection, Baker said.
Miller, a renowned political strategist who stepped down amid a battle with cancer to become a rank-and-file senator, was surprised by the portrait and tearfully thanked the chamber. Characteristically, he also made a humorous quip.
“I’m going to be on my good behavior, aren’t I?” Miller said. “Because I’m going to be to looking down on me.”