Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Rosetta M. T. Stith, Ph.D. (1945-2017)
MSA SC 3520-13615

Biography:

In front of a body of students, Dr. Rosetta Stith stated that "somebody had to put the light in your bulb…that light made you who you are, even when you didn't know who you are."1 While she was referencing mothers, Dr. Stith also ignited lights for countless students as she was a fierce supporter of assisting pregnant teenagers, specifically with education. She helped them to “succeed against overwhelming odds associated with poverty, limited family support, and negative societal attitudes.”2  Dr. Stith not only changed the lives of teenagers from Baltimore, but the standards by which they are treated.

Rosetta Ma Theia Stith was born on January 5, 1945, to Elijah and Edna Stith in Baltimore, Maryland, where she has lived for the entirety of her life.3 Growing up, her father was a laborer and her mother a federal government employee, and Dr. Stith was one of three children, having one brother and one sister.4 Their household was one of love, she recalled that her parents “loved us…they told us ‘all the world is yours, you pick the part you want.’”5 Additionally, her father called Dr. Stith “doll baby” and drove her to school every day, through grade school, college, and graduate school. During this time he stressed the importance of education and common sense. Dr Stith remembered that he told her “I don't want any of my children to be educated fools.”6 A strong and supportive relationship with her family continued throughout her life, as she had lunch with her mother every Thursday, and deeply mourned the passing of her father in 1977. Such a relationship also set the foundations for Dr. Stith’s career choice.    

Theatrical by nature, Dr. Stith’s parents aspired for her to be on stage, an idea to which she commented “the stage would be grand, of course.”7 However, extending the compassion of her family onto others, Dr. Stith was drawn towards an educational career path.8 Her talent in education was recognized as she was told “you have flair. You are a teacher. You are a principal, too.”9 With this in mind, Dr. Stith graduated from Morgan State University in 1969 and began teaching elementary school in Baltimore City.10  

In 1974, Dr. Stith graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master’s degree.11 Shortly following this, she found her life’s calling when she was introduced to the Laurence G. Paquin Middle/Secondary School for Expectant Teenage Mothers, which was established in 1966.12 This school, located in a poverty stricken, crime ridden part of East Baltimore, was in poor shape both physically and morally, as its students were “pregnant, scared, ashamed, and hopeless.”13 Bebe Caldewell, Dr. Stith’s mentor, stated “this place needs a director,” after introducing her to the building.14 Due to such encouragement, Dr. Stith took the school administrator’s exam, passed, and was hired as its assistant principal. She was promoted to principal in 1980.15  

Dr. Stith dedicated a significant portion of her life to improving the school and the lives of its students. Her main focus became to keep pregnant teenagers in school. While she recognized that teenage pregnancy was not typically ideal, she was adamant about correctly handling such a situation once it occurred. Bluntly, she would tell the students "you made one mistake, don't make another. Stay in school.”16

In the following years, Dr. Stith worked tirelessly to help Paquin and its students. It was recognized that “when she [got] an idea that she [thought was] going to work and going to benefit her school, she [didn’t] wait around. She [went] out and [got] it. It [didn’t] matter if [it was] new or if we [had] no money -- she [went out] and [found] money to bring these services in for her students."17 Dr. Stith worked extended hours, both in the morning and at night, while going above standard calls of duty through such actions as comforting troubled teens (on the telephone and in person), helping with medical needs, writing morning announcements, and hugging the babies of the teenagers.18 A witness noted that she would work “till 9 p.m., filling out grant applications to garner additional funds, only to return to work at 7 a.m.”19 As a further testament to her dedication, more witnesses remarked that Dr. Stith would track down teen fathers, help with teens in labor, and lecture teen moms on proper womanly etiquette, and on proper ways to care for their children.20

One result of Dr. Stith’s efforts was significant development at Paquin. Instead of a dull, broken building, it became an open space full of warmth, decorations, plants, and artwork from both the students and their children.21 She made sure there was a full library with materials for students and children’s books for their toddlers.22 Dr. Stith created a day care center which doubled as a family skills lab.  This allowed teens to attend academic classes, and then learn important parenting skills and child developmental knowledge with their children after class.23 She created the status quo that each mother would have lunch with her child, an event she called “peas-in-the-hair-time.”24 Additionally, Dr. Stith hired health care professionals to work at the school in a health center25 so that medical services would be readily available to the students. 26

Further, Dr. Stith created a computer lab with academic computer programs that would allow teen mothers to visit school and take a few lessons for short periods directly after the birth of their child until they could attend school full-time once again.27 One of her most notable ideas at the school was creating a sewing lab, called the Entrepreneur Room,28 which not only gave students valuable sewing skills that made them more marketable on the job market, but produced baby clothes and gifts that the students could sell to Baltimore stores.29 This room was impressively modern as it had multi-needle, computerized sewing machines and other such industrial equipment.30 Up to twenty-five students could work in the room at a time, and the skills they learned allowed them to enter the job market earning between $7 to $10 an hour. Eventually, the school started it own line, called Young Sensations, which was sold at major stores in the Baltimore area, such as JCPenney.31 The profits of the items went to the students and the school.32 Finally, Dr. Stith assured that her school always had a sound academic program which would allow her students to gain high school diplomas.33

Another result of Dr. Stith’s actions was an overall increase in the standards of life and attitudes of her pregnant teenagers. One student of Paquin recalled that "being a pregnant teen, society tends to make you feel degraded. Like you're going to end up on welfare."34 However, Dr. Stith worked diligently to dispel such negative feelings. She expressed a “relentlessly positive message to her predominantly black group of 300 girls.”35 To do this, she taught her students about things such as avoiding degrading music. Dr. Stith believed that many of the choices of the girls had “to do with the culture they're living in.”36 Therefore, she encouraged her students to make life changes that involved surrounding themselves with positive culture that would not degrade them.37 Additionally, she encouraged her students to avoid peer pressure and practice abstinence until older ages.38 However, knowing that abstinence is not the only option, she pushed for the allowance of her students to use the contraceptive Norplant, which was effective and easy for teens to use as it was inserted under the skin and remained active for five years.39 When critics called the used of Norplant genocidal, Dr. Stith replied "I'll tell you what's genocidal…when girls don't go to school -- that's genocidal." In 1993, Paquin became the first school to offer the contraceptive.40 Dr. Stith was constantly fighting to better the lives of her students, and, to jump-start the process of positivity, she would take them to encouraging cultural events, such as the “Pandora's Box: Women in Classical Greece” exhibit at the Walters Art Museum that demonstrated how, in Ancient Greece, women who gave birth to children at an early age were well respected citizens.41

To further increase the standards of her student’s lives, Dr. Stith personally raised money to help with their college expenses and tried diligently to find homes for those students who had been rejected by their parents due to their pregnancies.42 Finally, she successfully lobbied the Maryland legislature to make Paquin an exception to the law that required drop-out students to wait six months before returning to the classroom, and she was the driving force behind the implementation of an on-site GED program at Paquin.43

Dr. Stith saw positive results, as many of her students developed optimistic ideals. One teen father expressed that he didn’t want his girlfriend to “be just another statistic. [He] wanted her to be able to show the kids when the time comes that she did finish [school]." Additionally, students such as Traychel McLeod (age 17) planned to go to college,44 and many succeeded: Danuella Roberts was the first student to receive the Paquin scholarship to the Baltimore City Community College, where she aspired to study nursing,45 and Melissa Erwin was a math major at Coppin State University.46   

While working “all the time for the girls and their families and their babies,” Dr. Stith also earned a doctorate degree from Temple University in 1988.47 By 2001, she had completely turned around Paquin and its students, so much that it was featured in a National Education Association Report titled “Solutions That Work.” Only five schools in the entire United States were featured in this.48 Additionally, others note that "the Paquin model may be the school of the future."49 In a nation where “50 percent of girls who give birth before age 18 never complete high school,” Dr. Stith gave her girls “a chance to plan” and a future.50 She told them that just because everything had not gone their way, there was no need to “spend the rest of [their] lives on the sofa, watching Jerry Springer and Sally Jessy and ignoring [their] own dreams.”51 Paquin is on record as having a 65% attendance rate, a figure that does not linger far behind average attendance figures.52 With Dr. Stith, and its additional 30 to 40 staff members of teachers, nurses, and councilors, Paquin kept a significant amount of pregnant teenagers “from becoming dependents of the city… from becoming statistics in the dropout column and, ultimately, the unemployment line.”53

Dr Stith’s amazing influences do not stop at Paquin, however. While still serving as principal, in 1994 she spearheaded The Ro Show, which was featured on Comcast Cablevision.54 Having irreplaceable first hand knowledge,  Dr. Stith “addressed the social issues around themes of needy parents and children on this show.”55 After the show ended in 2000, she started another on the same station titled Kids Talk with Dr. Ro, which she produced and hosted from 2001 to 2004.56 Although Dr. Stith’s positions in media and academia did cross, she maintained the media career after retiring as principal of Paquin, a position she had held for thirty years.57

Throughout the duration of her media career, Dr. Stith made significant accomplishments. She was able to write, produce, and host on an array of radio and television shows pertaining to important issues about teenage pregnancy and women in general.58 She also distributed programming and content for shows of similar nature.59 In addition to addressing these issues, Dr. Stith would provide information about support organizations and services that assisted women and pregnant teenagers. Further she appeared on prominent programs such as NBC News, Prime Time, Cross Fire, The McLaughlin Group, Geraldo, Leeza, The Ricki Lake Show, and Prime Time Live with Diane Sawyer,60 and she has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, and Fortune 500 Magazine.61 Making an international influence, Dr. Stith had a presence on T.V. programs in countries such as Finland, Germany, Japan, and Brazil.62 Overall, she spent over seventeen years in the media industry. Her blog, dedicated to providing information for women and teens, has been updated as recently as August 2012.63

Dr. Stith received many honors and awards throughout her lifetime. This includes the Woman of the Year Award in education from the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and the Alpha Zeta Chapter,64 the Recognition and Appreciation Award from the Greater Grace World Outreach Church for outstanding educational service on behalf of city teen-agers and families,65 and the 1992 Howard L. Cornish Humanitarian Award from Morgan State University Alumni Association for outstanding work with expectant teen-age mothers and their children.66 Additionally, she was recognized by St. John's A.M.E. Church as being among the church's 50 outstanding African-American women,67 recognized by the Baltimore chapter of the Continental Societies for her work with children and youth,68 and was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.  

Dr. Stith never married or had any children of her own.69 Her family was in every respect the teenagers and their children that she helped throughout her careers. Besides enjoying time with her pet poodle, and occasional trips to the spa or vacation spots, she dedicated everything she could to her students and audiences. Dr. Stith almost single handedly “saved countless people from death and hopelessness” while giving them “a sense of the possibility of their lives.”70  Her persona and unique look, “blond hair -- swept to one side in an asymmetrical style -- fuchsia rose pinned against a black dress, high heels, ankle bracelet and long orange and black fingernails,” will continue to be an important influence in Baltimore.71

Dr. Stith passed away on May 18, 2017, in Pikesville, Maryland, at the age of 72.

Endnotes 

1. Laura Lippman, “At Paquin, Memories and Thanks It’s a Happy, and Tearful, Mother’s Day,” The Sun, 08 May 1993   return to text 

2. Carolyn B. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, (Annapolis: Women of Achievement, Inc., 2002), pg. 130    return to text 

3. Holly Selby, “The Doc Is On Call Paquin School’s Rosetta Stith Nurtures ‘Her Babies” and Their Offspring,” The Sun, 11 November 1990    return to text 

4. Ibid.    return to text 

5. Ibid.    return to text 

6. Ibid.    return to text 

7. Ibid.    return to text 

8. Ibid.    return to text 

9. Ibid.    return to text 

10. Ibid.   return to text 

11. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

12. Ibid., pg. 130    return to text 

13. Ibid., pg. 130    return to text 

14. Ibid., pg. 130    return to text 

15. Stephanie Shapiro, “Helping Kida Who Are Parents; Interview: The Principal of the Paquin School for Expectant and Parenting Adolescents Has Made the School a National Model for Educating Teen-agers At Risk—And Their Children,” The Sun, 08 June 1997    return to text 

16. Selby, “The Doc Is On Call    return to text 

17. Ibid.    return to text 

18.Ibid.    return to text 

19. Ibid.    return to text 

20. Ibid.    return to text 

21. Ibid.    return to text 

22. Ibid.    return to text 

23. Ibid.    return to text 

24. Ibid.    return to text 

25. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

26. Ibid., pg. 130    return to text 

27. Ibid., pg. 130    return to text 

28. Shapiro, “Helping Kida Who Are Parents”    return to text 

29. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

30. Shapiro, “Helping Kida Who Are Parents”    return to text 

31. Ibid.    return to text 

32. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

33. Laura Loh, “City Stands By Decision on Paquin Cuts; Copeland Reaffirms Budgetary Move After Surprise Visit to School; City Stands by Decision on Cutbacks at Paquin,” The Sun, 12 February 2005    return to text 

34. Selby, “The Doc Is On Call    return to text 

35. James Bock, “We Really Haven’t Gone As Far As We Thought We Had; King Verdict and Riots Bring Blacks up Short,” The Sun, 03 May 1992    return to text 

36. Gregory Kane, “Pass Up That ‘Baby Mama” Dance, Girls,” The Sun, 22 March 2006    return to text 

37. Ibid.     return to text 

38. Ibid.    return to text 

39. John Dorsey, “The Secret is Out; ‘Pandora’s Box’: Exhibit nearing End of Run at the Walters is Creating Rare Excitement, Here and At Venues to Come,” The Sun, 03 January 1996    return to text 

40. Shapiro, “Helping Kida Who Are Parents”    return to text 

41. Dorsey, “The Secret is Out”    return to text 

42. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

43. Shapiro, “Helping Kida Who Are Parents”    return to text 

44. “For High School Girls, Norplant Debate Hits Home,” New York Times, 07 March 1993     return to text 

45. Robert Hilson, “Insistence, Care From Boyfriend, Father Help Pregnant Teen-agers Get Diploma,” The Sun, 10 June 1992     return to text 

46. Selby, “The Doc Is On Call    return to text 

47. Ibid.    return to text 

48. Ibid.    return to text 

49. Ibid.    return to text 

50. Kane, “Pass Up That ‘Baby Mama” Dance”    return to text 

51. Shapiro, “Helping Kida Who Are Parents”    return to text 

52. Paul Valentine, “Motherhood 101; Baltimore School Prepares Pregnant Teens for Life,” The Washington Post, 24 September 1991    return to text 

53. Ibid.    return to text 

54. Rosetta Stith, “WhenYouNeedToKnowAndGrow,” Wordpress (blog), August 15, 2013, http://whenyouneedtoknowandgrow.wordpress.com/about-dr-ro/    return to text 

55. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

56. Stith, “WhenYouNeedToKnowAndGrow”    return to text 

57. Ibid.    return to text 

58. Ibid.    return to text 

59. Ibid.    return to text 

60. Ibid.    return to text 

61. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

62. Stith, “WhenYouNeedToKnowAndGrow”    return to text 

63. Ibid.    return to text 

64. “Rosetta Stith, Principal of the Laurence G. Paquin School For,” The Sun, 05 May 1991    return to text 

65. “Rosetta Stith, Principal of the Laurence G. Paquin,” The Sun, 29 March 1992    return to text 

66. “Susan P. Leviton, Professor at the University of Maryland,” The Sun, 26 January 1992    return to text 

67. “Here’s To…,” The Sun, 10 May 1992    return to text 

68. Here’s To,” The Sun, 14 February 1993    return to text 

69. “Here’s To…”    return to text 

70. Stegman, Women of Achievement in Maryland History, pg. 130    return to text 

71. Selby, “The Doc Is On Call"    return to text 

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