Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Eugenia Byrnes O'Conor (1896-1971)
MSA SC 3520-2289
First Lady of Maryland, 1939-1947

Mary Eugenia Byrnes O'Conor was the wife of Herbert R. O'Conor, the fifty-first governor of Maryland serving in office from 1939-1947. Known as Eugenia, she met Herbert in the spring of 1911 at St. John's Catholic Church in Baltimore when she was only twelve and he just fourteen years old. Herbert and Eugenia maintained their friendship throughout their teens and through Herbert's term in the Navy Reserves during the last stages of World War I.  The two became active members of the Loyola Club, a Catholic social club for young singles that held dances, performed plays and sponsored musical events. Herbert graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in June, 1920, and although his parents would have preferred that he was better established in his law career before getting married, Herbert and Eugenia set the date for November 24, 1920, and the two were married at St. Philip and St. James Church in Baltimore.3  The O'Conors would eventually have five children:  Herbert, Jr., Eugene, Mary (O'Conor) Farley, James, and Robert.

During her eight-year tenure as First Lady of Maryland, Mrs. O'Conor led an active home life as a mother while maintaining a full schedule in her capacity as wife of Maryland's governor.  At the beginning of the first O'Conor administration in 1939, the five children ranged in age from sixteen to three.  Four of the children attended school in Baltimore, and Mrs. O'Conor spent a lot of time driving them back and forth between Baltimore and Annapolis.4  At the same time, she  held at least two series' of receptions at Government House that were open to the public, and was active in the Democratic Women's Clubs of Annapolis and Baltimore, hosting members of the clubs for tea at Government House.  In 1943, Mrs. O'Conor served as one of the hostesses for the "President's Ball" in Annapolis, the proceeds of which went to fund polio research.  The O'Conors continued the tradition of holding formal receptions for members of the General Assembly and their friends at Government House, attended by more than 1,000 people at a time.  They hosted Naval Academy officials for dinner at the house and held several fund-raising events in the house to support such causes as improvements to the local hospital and to the new Ritchie Highway.5

The O'Conor administration paralleled the war in Europe and America's entry into World War II.  Mrs. O'Conor supported the war effort by donating blood and by serving as a patron along with her husband for fund-raisers for the benefit of the National War Fund and for general war relief.6  The O'Conors also held a special reception at Government House for servicemen stationed at Fort Meade.7

As First Lady of Maryland, Mrs. O'Conor became "noted for her skills as a hostess, entertaining a wide variety of diplomats and royalty in Government House" including the royal family of Luxembourg, the exiled president of Lithuania, the Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.8  In June, 1939, the O'Conors attended a garden party given at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. by King George and Queen Elizabeth of England.  The O'Conors occasionally attended  events in Washington, D.C. such as teas and luncheons with congressmen and cabinet members of the Roosevelt administration and their families.   In May, 1940, Eugenia was a guest along with Herbert and a few others at the Maryland home of Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles, where she enjoyed a friendly chat with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.10   In spite of her full social calendar and her active work on behalf of public causes, her oldest son Herbert O'Conor, Jr. remarked upon her death in October, 1971 that "her favorite place was at home, close to her family."11

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