Below you’ll see a list of notable Rockville women of the 20th century, courtesy of Peerless Rockville– an award-winning nonprofit, community-based organization founded in 1974 to preserve buildings, objects, and information important to Rockville’s heritage.
“Frieda’s Cottage” at Chestnut Lodge calls to mind the life and career of its namesake, Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and also stands as an emblem of a generation of women who lived and worked in Rockville and contributed in varying ways to its character, identity, and transformation from a small town to a modern suburban city.
Psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (1889-1957) fled Germany in the 1930s and, in partnership with Dr. Dexter Bullard, transformed Chestnut Lodge into a renowned institution whose pioneering specialty was psychotherapy for psychotic patients. Frieda made her home in a cottage built for her on the hospital grounds. Anne Wilson Bullard (1900-1996), wife of Dr. Bullard, served as Chestnut Lodge administrator from 1931 to 1967 and treasurer of its research institute until 1995. Active in philanthropic organizations, Mrs. Bullard was the first woman to serve as foreman of a Montgomery County Grand Jury.
Washington socialite Irene Moore Smith Lyon (1882-1950) is remembered for enlarging the Bowie Estate, today GlenviewMansion. Irene and her third husband, Dr. James A. Lyon, used Glenview as their year-round residence and hosted garden parties at the stylish Colonial Revival mansion, which the City purchased in 1957. The spirit of the 1920s Estate Era lives on in a bucolic setting.
Rose Kiger Dawson (1896-1979) was born and raised in South Dakota, where she rode horses on the open prairie and resisted all forms of feminine domestication. When her family moved to Rockville in 1911, Rose adapted to life in a small town on her own terms and was one of the first local women to drive a car. In 1939, she was appointed Montgomery County Supervisor of Elections, a post she held for over 30 years. Honest and efficient, Rose Dawson was considered a model of bipartisanship, with both political parties regularly recommending her reappointment.
Rockville women played a leadership role in the struggle for civil rights. Educator Rosalie Mapson Campbell (1907-2004), a lifelong resident of the Haiti community, earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, a notable achievement in the era of segregation. Nina Honemond Clarke enjoys the distinction of being the first black principal in Montgomery County and is the author of histories on black schools and churches. New Yorker Florence Orbach settled in Twinbrook in the 1950s and joined the NAACP, where she teamed with Mary Williams Betters to reform City and County public accommodations laws. They organized demonstrations, testified at hearings, and published a list of establishments that practiced discrimination – all aimed at advancing the cause of social justice.
Other Rockville women distinguished themselves in law and politics. Attorney Vivian Simpson (1903-1987) was Montgomery County’s first woman attorney and Maryland’s first woman Secretary of State. Viola Hovsepian was elected to the City Council in 1982 and subsequently appointed Mayor to fill an unexpired term. More recently, Rose Krasnow was elected to 3 terms as Mayor, serving from 1995 to 2001.
Combining civic activism and traditional homemaking, Margaret “Peg” Sante (1930-2002) is fondly called a “community treasure.” The mother of 4 daughters, Peg taught nursery school for 2 decades and was a leader in cultural institutions. She led a campaign to have St. Mary’s Chapel declared historic, raised funds to renovate the Grand Courtroom in the Red Brick Courthouse and, with her husband Pete, restored their 1890 house on Beall Avenue. In 2003, the City dedicated Peg Sante Park in her memory.
These and countless other women of Rockville helped define a remarkable era in local history, meeting the challenges of modern life, advocating civic improvement, distinguishing themselves in their respective professions, and actively shaping the life of the community.