Highlighting a Few Legendary Women in Montgomery County’s History

by MCS Staff
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“In diverse and remarkable ways, women have made major contributions in the history of Montgomery County. The lives and achievements of some Montgomery County women are legendary, while the significance of others is often overlooked.”

PLACES from the PAST: The Tradition of Gardez Bien in Montgomery County, Maryland by Clare Lise Kelly M-NCPPC highlights just some of these legendary women below, courtesy of Montgomery Planning:

The first National Historic Site dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman was the Clara Barton House (c1892). The stucture, in Glen Echo, served first as a warehouse for disaster relief supplies and, in 1897, became headquarters of the organization and Barton’s residence. From this house, she organized and directed American Red Cross relief efforts for victims of natural disasters and war (The National Park Service owns the Clara Barton House, which is interpreted as a house museum).

Rachel Carson, renowned biologist, natural-ist, writer, and poet, drew public attention to the danger of chemical pesticides and herbicides to public health. She was living in the Silver Spring house she designed when she wrote, in 1962, her remarkable book Silent Spring. This influential work dramatically altered the way Americans thought about the natural environment and led to the estab- lishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest official honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian. The Rachel Carson House (1956) was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.

Several women from the Sandy Spring community were influential in women’s independence and the suffrage movement. Mary Bentley Thomas (1845-1923), as president of the Women’s Suffrage of Maryland, played a major role in the struggle for women’s rights. Mary Thomas grew up at Bloomfield in Sandy Spring and succeeded Sandy Spring resident Caroline Hallowell Miller as president of the state suffrage association.

Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (1797-1858) was an influential writer of one of the best-loved housekeeping guides of the era, Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts and Hints to Young Housekeepers. Betsy Lea, as she was known to the family, was well educated, industrious, and a liberal Quaker. Intending the book to serve as a handbook for the inexperienced newlywed, she published her cookbook at her own expense in 1845. By 1879, 19 editions had been published. Elizabeth Ellicott Lea inherited Walnut Hill and expanded the c1820 brick house, installing a bake oven to test her recipes.

Representing less well-known but influential women is the Madonna of the Trail statue in Bethesda. The Daughters of the American Revolution erected twelve identical sculptures to commemorate American pioneer women and their role in the country’s westward expan- sion. The Bethesda statue was erected on Wisconsin Avenue in l929, marking an important route taken by settlers traveling to the West.

Women have played active roles in promoting education and foster- ing community life, often creating organizations to promote their cause. Two of the earliest, the Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (1857) and the Home Interest Society (1870), started in Sandy Spring. The Takoma Park Women’s Club established the first public library in the town of Takoma Park, in a donated house in the mid-1930s. The Lincoln Avenue residence is in the present Takoma Park Historic District. In Rockville, the Women’s Club, established in 1900, created that city’s first library in Dr. Stonestreet’s Office, now located in the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District.

National Park Seminary (1894) in Forest Glen was a finishing school for young women designed to provide skills for managing estates and operating in social venues of wealthy families.

Lilly Moore Stone (1861- 1960) was an outstanding civic leader who founded the Montgomery County Historical Society and a shrewd busi- nesswoman who operated the Stoneyhurst Stone Quarries. Following a disastrous barn fire and the death of her husband, Frank Pelham Stone, in 1921, Stone, in her early sixties, turned to a career in stone quarrying. Under Stone’s direction over the next 30 years, Stoneyhurst stone, a granite-like mica schist gained a reputation as an excellent building material known for its color, versatility, and durability. The stone was used in buildings and structures throughout the metro region, including the Washington Cathedral’s Chapel of Aramathea and the National Zoo’s birdhouse. Lilly Moore Stone’s own residence Glenmore (1937), 8311 Comanche Court, is sheathed in Stoneyhurst stone.

A group of Montgomery County women formed the Farm Women’s Cooperative as a self-help response to the severe economic conditions of the Great Depression. In 1932, they held the first market in an empty Bethesda storefront, selling fresh produce and home-made products directly to subur- ban families. The women built the permanent Farm Women’s Market in 1934 and it has been in continuous use as a farm market ever since.

Featured photo is of Rachel Carson, courtesy of the Library of Congress

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