wife comes here and she works like a dog.
I just feel that they get so little credit, some recognition would be nice."
--- Maryland First Lady Helen Tawes, 1961
With characteristic candor, Helen Tawes identified a striking gap in the recorded history of Maryland's public officials. She recognized that the women who accompany Maryland's governors to Annapolis take on enormous responsibility and receive very little acknowledgment for their hard work. Certainly, first ladies occupy a unique position in the political and cultural realm of the nation. They are not elected, they receive no salary, and their duties are not outlined by the Constitution, yet, despite the ambiguity of their post, first ladies have become an integral part of American history. They occupy a role which has evolved according to the customs of the day and the personalities of the women who fill it. Indeed, Maryland history provides wonderful examples of dynamic first ladies, and in 1995, Frances Hughes Glendening, Maryland's new first lady, sought to bring these women's stories to light.
At Mrs. Glendening's request, the Maryland State Archives initiated a research project dedicated to the study of Maryland's first ladies. Together with the Archives, Mrs. Glendening launched this effort by unveiling an exhibition in Government House of the thirteen state-owned first lady portraits. This exhibit highlighted the need for serious research regarding the lives of these women and the contributions they have made to Maryland history. In addition, the exhibit made clear the need to expand the definition of "first lady" to include those family members and friends who served in the capacity of first lady without being married to a governor.
As the research progressed, the project also grew to include an analysis of the environment in which these women lived and worked --- the Government House in Annapolis. Since the end of the 17th century, Annapolis has been the political center of Maryland and, for much of that time, the residence of the governor has been at the heart of this political life. First in Jennings House and now in the impressive home on State Circle, governors and their hostesses have carried out much of the political business of the state, entertained visiting dignitaries, and lived with their families. If they could speak, the walls of both Jennings House and Government House could tell many interesting tales. Central to their stories would be the wives, daughters, mothers, and friends of governors who, through their tireless support, community activism, organizational abilities, social skills, wise counsel, and just plain hard work have assisted in the administration of the state and have provided a positive role model for its citizens.
To date, the Archives' staff has identified fifty-four women serving as first ladies and official hostesses since 1777. We are confident that there are more waiting to be discovered, and we welcome additions to this collective knowledge. This exhibit, Lady of the House, along with the Archives' forthcoming book and website entitled If These Walls Could Speak: The Official Residences and Public Lives of Maryland's First Ladies and Official Hostesses, 1777-2000, presents research which we hope will always be "in progress."
Throughout this project, it has been our great pleasure to meet and work with some of the first ladies and their descendants, as well as museums and historical societies from across the state and the country. I personally would like to thank each and every individual who participated including my colleagues at the Maryland State Archives whose commitment and diligence have been invaluable. In particular, I would like to thank Mrs. Glendening for her dedication to both women's history and the legacy of her predecessors in Government House. Undoubtedly, the process of defining and redefining the role of the first lady and official hostess will continue, just as Government House will evolve with each new family that settles within its walls. Because of her vision, these stories now have a home in the permanent record and collective memory of Maryland where they will forever be a part of our history --- exactly where they belong.
Emily Oland Squires
Director of Biographical Research for the Maryland State Archives
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