Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Ellen Showell Goldsborough (1867-1930)
MSA SC 3520-2286
First Lady of Maryland, 1912-1916

Extended Biography:

Ellen Showell Goldsborough was the daughter of William Showell and Nancy LeFevre Showell and was born in Worcester County on May 16, 1867.  She spent her childhood at the family home called Langmede, six miles from Berlin, Maryland.  On December 14, 1893, she married Phillips Lee Goldsborough in Berlin, and the couple maintained a home in Cambridge, Maryland.  They had three children, Nancy (1894-1895), Phillips Lee, Jr. (born c. 1898), and Brice (born c. 1904).1

The Goldsboroughs were known as an old and socially prominent Eastern Shore family before Phillips Lee was elected governor in 1911.  The family lineage included Nicholas Goldsborough, who came to Maryland from England in the mid-seventeenth century and settled on Kent Island, as well as Charles Goldsborough, who had been Maryland's last Federalist goverrnor in 1819.2  Mrs. Goldsborough was active in the social life in Cambridge before she moved to Annapolis in order to assume her duties as first lady.  She started the Women's Club of Cambridge and served as its first president.  She became known for her hospitality and card games such as bridge and auction.3  Later in life she became a member of the Maryland Society of the Colonial Dames of America.4

When the Goldsboroughs arrived in Annapolis, Phillips Lee, Jr. and Brice were aged 14 and 8.  Phillips Lee, Jr. was a student at the Tome Institute (or the Tome School for Boys) at Port Deposit, Maryland, and probably did not live full-time at the Executive Mansion.  Ellen's mother Nancy, however, did reside full-time with the Goldsboroughs, as well as a niece, Etta Goldsborough, who acted as an assistant to the first lady.5  During the first spring of the Goldsborough's four-year tenure in Annapolis, Ellen worked with professional decorators to renovate the Governor's Mansion.  Together, the first lady and the decorators chose new color schemes and furniture for all of the public reception rooms as well as the governor's office.6

As first lady, Ellen Showell Goldsborough hosted both local and national politicians and office-holders at the Governor's Mansion.  The Evening Capital reported that, because the previous governor Austin L. Crothers had been a bachelor, there had only been two small receptions at Government House in the previous four years, and the socialites of Annapolis were delighted to learn that large receptions of up to 600 people would resume with the Goldsboroughs occupying the governor's residence.Early in her tenure as first lady, Ellen Showell Goldsborough hosted a dinner for future president Woodrow Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, and had her picture taken with him and her husband for The Baltimore Sun.8  She also briefly received President William Howard Taft when he stopped at the Governor's Mansion on his way back to Washington, D.C. after delivering the commencement address at the Naval Academy in June 1912, and she was later a dinner guest of the president at the White House.9  As was customary at the time, the governor and his wife hosted dinners at the Executive Mansion for members of the Maryland legislature as well as for Maryland's Court of Appeals judges including Chief Judge A. Hunter Boyd.10  In addition to hosting the many receptions and dinners at Government House, Mrs. Showell was also the guest of honor at dinners hosted elsewhere by such prominent persons as Bishop John Gardiner Murray of Baltimore, former State Senator J. Wirt Randall, and officials from the Naval Academy.11

The Goldsboroughs enjoyed many forms of recreation and found ways to combine business with pleasure.  The couple enjoyed attending the Colonial Theatre in Annapolis as well as Albaugh's Theatre, Ford's Theatre, and the Lyric in Baltimore.12  They also vacationed in Ocean City, Maryland and visited Governor Goldsborough's brother in Philadelphia.13  On their way to the Republican National Convention in held in Chicago in June 1912, the governor and his wife stopped at points of interest such as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Springfield, Ohio.14  During a ten-day trip to New York, they visited vacation spots in between the governor's scheduled appointments, and took the scenic route on a trip to San Francisco where the governor presided over Maryland Day exercises at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915.15  During the summers, the Goldsboroughs closed Government House and spent the warmer months at their home in Cambridge, where the governor also conducted business in between visits to Annapolis.16

Like other first ladies of her generation, Ellen Showell Goldsborough's tenure as first lady was more social than political.  Throughout her husband's public career as state comptroller, governor, and later U.S. senator, she remained inactive in politics.17  She may have decided to accompany her husband to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in June 1912 in order to enjoy the road trip by automobile along the way rather than actively participate in the convention.18  Her most publicly active days came years after she left Annapolis with the advent of motion pictures and the issue of censorship.19

Ellen Showell Goldsborough was a woman of faith.  She was an Episcopalian, attending St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis during her husband's governorship.20  On her death on January 7, 1930, her body was buried at Christ Protestant Episcopal Church Cemetery in Cambridge, Maryland.21

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