Celebrating Women's History Month --
The Her-oes of Calvert County
story & photos by Carol Glover
Riding the train south, the young Negro woman kept her face hidden behind a newspaper. After all, there was a $40,000 bounty on her head, a fortune in the 1850s. She often traveled south to throw her pursuers off the trail. Then she'd get off the train and head north - the direction she really wanted to be headed from the beginning.
Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, her skull indented from an assault, her back scarred from frequent whippings, she led 300 other slaves, including her family, to freedom.
Her Underground Railroad rescues, financed by back-breaking domestic work, were 100 percent successful - not one of her escorted slaves was ever recaptured.
In later life, she used her own money to feed poor people on her community farm and to finance a home for the destitute.
Abolitionist John Brown recognized this Maryland woman as "one of the best and bravest persons on this continent - General Tubman as we call her."
Maryland women still walk in the footsteps of the strong women of the past, setting the pace and infusing the spirit that unifies organizations and people. In politics, education, care-giving, community building, advocating for young women, they are today's generals.
In Calvert County, the Commission for Women has, since 1982, decorated its heroes. These heroes may not grace the cover of Time or appear on Oprah, but they have touched, indeed uplifted, lives around them. They are women like you, your mother or daughter, your neighbor.
To celebrate women's history month, New Bay Times had no need to go far from home. We sought out women recognized by the Calvert County Commission for Women over 16 years, choosing four representing different community interests: Grace Meade Rymer, Ruth Scriven Wolf, Joyce Freeland and Fran Tracy-Mumford.
We chose women who started out without wealth or power to see what they themselves have achieved and emphasize possibilities for all of us. So you will hear them speak, we report their stories in their own words.
Community Activism: Gracie Rymer
"At the time I didn't realize it, but I think I received my ideas of community service, almost by osmosis, from my mother and father."
Grace Mead Rymer, "Gracie" as she's universally known, relaxes in her white wicker chair in her remodeled home in Camp Roosevelt on the Bay. Her hands help her express her thoughts and emotions. Her eyes sparkle with intelligence. Wife, mother to 10 and grandmother to 13, she's a woman at home in her skin. But ask her how she got her self-assurance, and she's surprised by her own answer.
"If you had asked me 20 years ago where my idea of service to the community came from, my answer would have been different. My parents' influence was so subtle that I didn't know it until years later.
"When my son and my niece researched the family, I learned that I come from a family of women achievers. My aunt was the first woman vice president of the telephone company. My mother joined the Navy during World War I and was the first woman elected to public office in Calvert County. The surprise at that time was not so much her being a woman but being a Catholic. She organized the Red Cross and the first high school PTA.
"Mom and Dad were both political. Dad was mayor of North Beach and president of the Volunteer Fire Department."
It's hard to keep Gracie on track: she wants to talk about everybody and everything but herself. So she's eager to credit two other people as major influences in her life.
"The first person was a priest, Father John Driscoll, who helped at St. Anthony's church in North Beach. He later became president of Villanova. He helped me discover books." Rymer is a lover of books, reading subjects from women in the 1500s to the Ireland of Angela's Ashes.
"The second was J. Wilmer Gott, Calvert County commissioner. "I was clerk to the county commissioners at that time. He had a big influence on me because he made me realize that I had abilities. I wrote letters, speeches and press releases assuming everybody could. He gave me confidence, showed me that I could do things that other people couldn't."
Alsot aking a major place on the list of Rymer's supporters is Thomas A. Rymer, retired state delegate and Calvert County judge.
"My husband, Tom, supported me in everything I've done. When he was a delegate in the Maryland House, I was reluctant to speak up. I didn't want people to think that what I was saying reflected on him. But once he was made judge, I started speaking up, knowing my voice reflected me."
And speak up Grace Rymer has, about Calvert's comprehensive plan, its zoning and its transportation issues. She is active in the League of Women Voters, participating in many of their studies that have led to changes in county policy. Studies on mental health led to the formation of Calvert Hospice, and fiscal studies led to adoption of the county's current budget process.
Keeping busy is one of the things Rymer does best. Numerous organizations benefit from her experience, wisdom and hard work. Among them: Calvert County's Budget Advisory Committee, the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse, the Calvert Marine Museum and the Asbury Leadership Council.
People - especially women - ought to contribute, Rymer believes. Speaking forcefully, she advises, "I grew up feeling that I had a responsibility to my county and to my country. I could make a difference in the quality of life of people around me. Government controls more of your life than you realize - and it should, in my opinion. Therefore, be a part of it.
"My advice to young women would be to reach out wherever you can make a difference - especially if you have a special interest - drugs, county committees, the environment, economic development."
As Grace Mead Rymer talks, again focusing on other subjects, not herself, she relaxes into her chair and leans back. She doesn't have to blow her own horn; plenty will do the tooting for her - as the Commission for Women did in recognizing Gracie Rymer as a Calvert Woman of Achievement in 1986.
Education/Women's Issues: Fran Tracy-Mumford
Fran Tracy-Mumford, lover of old structures, lives with her husband TJ on a 20-acre Eastern Shore farm. Bought in 1989, their telescope home has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest part of the house dates to around 1790, the newer section to about 1840. The Mumfords have done much of its restoration themselves.
Before moving to the Eastern Shore, Tracy-Mumford lived in Calvert County, where she served on the Calvert County Commission for Women, was first president of Business and Professional Women of Maryland and helped create the Women's Center. At the same time, she was the director of the fledgling Community College at Calvert. She was recognized for her contributions to the community in 1982, the first year that the Calvert Commission held its Women of Recognition ceremony.
Continuing the work she started in Calvert County, Tracy-Mumford is state director of adult education for the state of Delaware.
Her work with women's issues continues in Annapolis, as president of the Maryland Commission for Women, board member of Women of Achievement in Maryland and member of Business and Professional Women. In 1991 Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed Tracy-Mumford to the Maryland Commission for Women. In 1997 Gov. Glendening named her chairperson.
Tracy-Mumford is a woman on a mission. "My purpose in life is to help others reach their full potential, especially those seeking a second chance, through education," she says.
"Ten years ago after reading a book called Defining Your Mission, I began to try to live my life daily through my mission of helping others to reach their potential especially through education," she adds.
Determination came early to Mumford-Tracy, born in Baltimore County, the only child in an average household:
"My mother reiterated education and a sound career so I could be independent. She didn't have a high school diploma and always felt it was missing.
"She had trust in me, that I would do the right thing. This led to self-assurance and independence. We'd shop for doll clothes, I had 'x' amount of money and could make the decision on how to spend it, but I had to explain why I made my choices. She would point out the pros and cons of the situation, but she never said no.
"Both parents conveyed the belief I could do anything I wanted. They wanted me to have a better life than they had.
"In addition to my parents, I've been lucky to have other mentors and supporters. My husband, for one, removed obstacles so I could have time to work on my doctoral dissertation. When he saw me in high stress, he'd ask 'what is it I can do to help,' and he did whatever was necessary."
Tracy-Mumford thinks a while, then returns to her earliest influences, "About my mother, no matter what she attempted she could always learn how to do it and do it well. She's very talented in sewing, so creative she designs her own patterns."
Following in her mother's footsteps, Fran Tracy-Mumford succeeds and does well in all she attempts, even home restoration. She says laughing: "I can spackle with the best of them."
Political Activism: Joyce Freeland
The windy road leads up through the trees and farmland to a large farmhouse. This is Freeland land, bought by great-grandfather Freeland in 1871. The farmhouse is being remodeled by a loving great-granddaughter, a woman whose interests, although grounded in politics, are far reaching.
In the Freelands who came before, Joyce finds her roots.
"I remember going to work with my mother. She worked in the kitchen and bussed tables at the Rod 'n' Reel. It was segregated at that time; blacks couldn't go in to eat. I saw my mother and how hard she worked. I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to do this. I have to try to do better.'
"My mother and my aunt pushed, shoved and encouraged education. My mother talked constantly about it, checked on my grades, heard my spelling words and tested me on what I had to learn.
"My Aunt Mazie put my sister, a friend and me up in her home in Washington summers during college, giving me a chance to work at the Government Printing Office and the Department of Agriculture."
Freeland went from high school at still-segregated Brooks in Prince Frederick to Morgan State University. After an internship with Sen. Charles McMathias turned into a job, Freeland was off and running.
In her 30 year career, she has worked in Washington for Maryland Reps. Parran Mitchell and Kweisi Mfume. For the last five years, she has been executive assistant to California Democrat Maxine Waters.
Besides politics, another of Freeland's loves is the land. "My birthright and the home of my family, the land needs to be cared for and used wisely," she says.
Freeland's dark eyes flash and her dimples become more pronounced as she smiles, gesturing gracefully with her hands as she talks. "I'm a tree farmer. That's how I became a member of the Forestry Board. My mother and I were looking at ways to utilize the farm land. Managing and harvesting our trees keeps the air cleaner and keeps wildlife safe."
She credits God and her family for the strength to keep up all these activities: "My determination comes from my aunt," she says. Freeland's 85-year-old Aunt Mazie Washington lives just down the road. She drives, cooks, cleans and loves to go fishing.
"When I look back and see how my mother and grandmother worked - making butter, raising chickens and selling eggs while my father farmed and worked as a carpenter. That's where I got my inspiration."
The walls of Freeland's home are filled with family pictures - old photographs in antique oval frames - showing proud, hard-working people, all good-looking men and women. As she looks at these reminders of family, Freeland muses, "All politicians are individuals with different agendas. I've worked for some high-profile people. But they've all been community people, with community concerns. They want to help their black communities by bringing more business opportunities and economic empowerment and better child care."
In the '80s, Freeland brought Congressman Mitchell to Calvert County. The field day on the farm became a highly successful annual event. "We cooked all day and prayed it wouldn't rain," Freeland remembers. But what happened was more than fun: "It was outdoors, casual and gave people a chance to talk about issues. And all for a good cause - the Minority Business Education and Legal Defense Funds."
Again putting her concerns into practice, Freeland is a member of the board of the Tri-County Community Action Committee, which helps people in need of emergency medical services, heat and affordable housing. She has also been president of Calvert County's NAACP since 1989, the year after her Woman of Recognition award.
"I've always felt that we all need to become involved if we want to be able to criticize. I invest in my community. If you don't, you don't get anything out."
Is there anything left for this woman of all seasons to wish for, any time in the day left?
"I'd love to be captain of my own boat," she says. "I love fishing - just like my aunt."
Giving Care: Ruth Scriven Wolf
Ruth Scriven Wolf greets me at the door of Calvert Hospice and leads me back into an office. It's not hers, but the Hospice needed an interim executive director and Wolf filled in while the search went on for someone permanent.
"As a kid I was interested in scientific things. I remember when I was in junior high, my mother found me cutting up a pig's eyes. I had gotten them from the butcher and wanted to see how they worked."
"I wished I had been encouraged to go into medicine. It didn't occur to me that I could. I wish I had tried."
Instead, Ruth Wolf chose nursing as her career. She became coordinator of programs and services for College Park. On moving to Calvert County, she evaluated its health needs - which led to adult day care and hospice.
"My father died when I was young, and I lived with my grandparents. Perhaps that's what gave me my interest in the elderly. When my grandmother was in her 90s, tiny and energetic, I'd call and she'd tell me she wasn't as well as she used to be. She'd made the beds, done the breakfast dishes and she still had plenty to do."
When Wolf talks about hospice, her voice resonates with compassion. "Early on in hospice, it was hands-on work. At that time we were not Medicare certified and could give no drugs. Such a little bit of help doesn't seem like a whole lot, but it has a great effect on the dying patient and the family.
"We had one young mother dying of breast cancer. I helped as she video-taped messages to her young children, saying 'I can only do this for a little while at a time.' I cried, and so did she.
"Patients have needs, not just physical ones. People fear pain and the loss of control. They want to be at home, not dying hooked up to a machine but at home with people who care about them. We take care of those needs where the patients are. If hospice was used more and more effectively, there would be no need for assisted suicide."
Listening to Wolf talk about hospice and her other organizations is like reviewing a who's who in community service. From education - Wolf served on the Prince George's County Board of Education - to Religious Liberty - she worked, too, on the Maryland Committee for Education and Religious Liberty - full circle to the Calvert Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees. There's far more
Even though Wolf has won numerous awards for her community activities, she doesn't rely on pat answers.
"When the Commission for Women recognized me in 1994 for my work with hospice," she says, "I was pleased and humble. Pleased because you've put effort into something and it's nice to be noticed. Humble because then you think I haven't done as much as I think I should."
What gives Ruth Scriven Wolf the inspiration to keep on with all her activities?
"My inspiration comes from people. My husband and children have always been supportive. Most people on the boards that I've been on are intelligent and caring or they wouldn't bother doing what they do. There are always different viewpoints, sometimes forceful discussions, but there has never been an instance where differing viewpoints became personal."
Pushing back in her office chair, Wolf considers what advice she would give to today's women. "Young women can do anything they want to do. You would be surprised at how much impact you can have if you try."
She holds that same standard for herself. "I want to make a contribution for as long as I can."
Strong women leave tracks for young women to follow.
Just as they've had tracks to follow. What do Grace Mead Rymer, Ruth Scriven Wolf, Fran Mumford-Tracy and Joyce Freeland have in common? Each has walked in the footsteps of supportive family members, mentors, role-models - especially mothers and teachers.
That's one secret we can pass on to future "generals."
The slightly built young biologist hired by the Bureau of Fisheries in 1935 was quiet and shy. She was entering into a "man's" world, one of only two professional women in the Bureau. Always a lover of nature and a talented writer, she became editor-in-chief of publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As a child, she roamed the woods and fields near her home, nurturing a love of nature and living things. Her mother read to her and surrounded her with books, nurturing a love of the written word.
Moving to Maryland in 1929, she attended Johns Hopkins as a graduate student and taught part-time there and at the University of Maryland.
The author of four bestsellers, her last, Silent Spring, sounded America's wake up call to the harmful use of pesticides. In response to the book, the Federal Government set a new policy: safety of pesticides needed to be proven before their use.
A woman of integrity and determination, Rachel Carson believed "the real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth - soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife."
-Thanks to Sunny Wainwright, Margaret Gill, Alyce Schwallenberg, John Hoffman and Bobbie Bowen Elliott.
The Calvert County Commission for Women came into being on June 22, 1976. It is a volunteer organization of 15 members appointed by the Calvert County Commissioners. Its mission is to:
Since 1982, the Commission has recognized over 150 women. Nominated annually from the community, these women represent education, politics, healthcare, environmental and community organizations. They come from varied backgrounds, ethnic groups and religions. The one characteristic common to all: each has made Calvert County a better place to live and work.
In Memorium: Elizabeth Virginia Hudson Bowen
December 26, 1910 - March 10, 1998
The rocking chair - the symbol of one of Calvert County's best loved and most respected daughters - sits empty. Virginia H. Bowen, an educator for 47 years, surrounded herself with rocking chairs. She had one next to her desk at school, in most of her classrooms and at home. "There has always been something soothing about a rocker," she had been known to say.
Virginia Bowen, born in Baltimore, moved with her family by steamboat to Calvert County. As soon as Calvert County got the idea for recognizing its extraordinary women, it thought of Virginia Bowen. She was a Woman of Recognition in 1982.
Her educational promise showed early in life. In 1927, she was valedictorian and one of only eight girls graduating from Calvert High School .
"I remember Virginia as a young woman. She was very active, outgoing and attractive. She was active in sports: I remember her playing girls' volleyball. She was older than me but we both went to school in the building in Prince Frederick that is now the Masonic Lodge. It had elementary through high school," remembers schoolmate Louis Goldstein, Maryland's comptroller.
Following in the footsteps of a long line of family teachers - six aunts all taught - she enrolled in the two year course at the State Normal School at Towson.
She returned to the one-room schoolhouse as principal-teacher, teaching 28 students in grades one through seven.
"The one-room schoolhouse was a wonderful place to learn," she said in a later interview. "The first graders used to learn so much being around the older students and each of the grades seemed to help one another."
When consolidation closed the school in 1932, as one of the youngest, less experienced, Virginia Hudson - who was by now Mrs. Bowen - was unemployed. She settled down to raise children and take care of her home.
In 1939, Bowen returned to teaching. Forty-three of those years she dedicated to Huntingtown schools, first as teacher then as principal.
MacArthur Jones, one of her assistant principals at Huntingtown Elementary, remembers her well: "Mrs. Bowen had high expectations of everyone - students, teachers, parents. You couldn't get away with anything around her either."
After retirement in 1982, Bowen continued to improve education as a member of the Calvert County School Board. State Sen. Bernie Fowler, instrumental in her appointment, remembers Bowen: "As principal she had her staff put together. She was proud of her school and her children and fought hard, was strong-willed about education. She was also a good athlete. Many times going by the school grounds, I'd see her playing first or second base or getting a hit.
"Virginia Bowen was one of the most outstanding citizens the county has ever had. "
That evaluation is echoed by James Hook, superintendent of Calvert County Schools: "If anyone could ever be described as a legend, it would have to be Mrs. Bowen."
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VolumeVI Number 11
March 19-25, 1998
New Bay Times
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