Here we have a political poster from the early 1960s, screen-printed on heavy cardboard, measuring 22″ x 28″. It reads “Elect Elaine Lady – House of Delegates – Republican Candidate. By authority of candidate.”  Based on the condition, it was probably used on the campaign trail (not simply a left-over).  It was donated by Donna Bassin in 1999, part of a large collection of mid-20th century political posters.

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Elaine Lady of Chevy Chase served one term in the Maryland House of Delegates, from 1966 to 1970, representing Montgomery County’s District 1.  A real estate agent, Mrs. Lady’s campaign platforms focused on education, pollution, lower taxes, and efficient government. Before her successful election in 1966, she ran for the House as a Prince George’s County candidate in 1954, and as a Montgomery County candidate in 1962; she served as Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Appeals from 1964-66. In 1970 she ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate, and appears to have retired from politics after that. Based on the candidate photographs used in the Washington Post, this poster dates from her 1962 campaign, probably from the November general election.

Mrs. Lady was not the first woman to serve in the Maryland legislature. That honor belongs to Mary E.W. Risteau of Harford County, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1922 (the first year it was possible for a woman to run in Maryland); she later served in the State Senate as well. Montgomery County’s first woman in the House of Delegates was Lavinia M. Engle, elected in 1930; she was followed by county residents Ruth Elizabeth Shoemaker, Genevieve H. Wells, Leona M. Rush, Kathryn J. Lawlor, Margaret C. Schweinhaut, Edna P. Cook, Alice W. Hostetler, and Louise Gore.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Once elected, serving in the legislature was not always easy. This 2009 article on Prince George’s County’s Pauline H. Menes, who also entered the House in 1966, quotes Menes: “It was made fairly clear to the few women who were here that we were not expected to accomplish very much, that we were not expected to stay very long.” (In fact, as of a few years ago Menes was the longest-serving state legislator in the U.S.)  Women were not appointed to leadership roles; there wasn’t even a ladies rest room near the chambers.  (There’s a good story about the rest room problem in the article linked above.)  It was sometimes a struggle simply to have their voices heard and taken seriously. 

Want to learn more? Visit the Women Legislators of Maryland site, or the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

It is true that there are many artifacts in our collections that are unrelated to local history. In our early years, we happily accepted any and all donations, regardless of provenance.

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At first glance, this little wood sculpture might appear to be one of those “why do we have this?” artifacts. Yet it is actually part of a story with both local and national significance: the 1949 French Merci Train.

In 1948, the United States sent relief goods to France, which was still suffering from the aftermath of occupation and war. We filled over 700 boxcars with supplies, many of which were contributed by individual Americans. To express the country’s gratitude, the following year France in turn filled 49 “40 and 8″-style boxcars with gifts for the American people. The train arrived in New York in February, 1949. The cars were sent off to their allotted states (the 49th car was split between D.C. and the territory of Hawaii), and the contents – ranging from food and wine to handicrafts to antiques – were divvied up.

The Maryland boxcar contents were exhibited at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, and some sort of bidding system was set up so that individuals or groups could acquire items. I haven’t found many details on the process*, or on the number and type of gifts in the Maryland car; all we have so far is a June 1949 Montgomery County Sentinel article, clipped for our scrapbook, reporting that “several highly interesting pieces to be added to the collection of the Montgomery County Historical Society have resulted from bids made last February,” and that MCHS members Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Talbott were to claim the successful bids. The Sentinel mentioned five things, though only four are in our collections today: an elaborately decorative flax wheel, a miniature portrait of Marie Antoinette, a modern model of the Arc d’ Triomphe, and this little folk carving. (We’ve never figured out what happened to the “fruit plaques from Paris,” which never made it to us.)

Why did these particular pieces catch our eye? Did we bid on other artifacts and lose? So far, we have no idea. Perhaps our smiling couple here, representing the folk costumes of the Bretagne region, were intended as comparison for our textile collections . . . or maybe we just appreciated their charming air. The 9.25″ tall wood carving is signed on the back by a J. Drèan of Auray, a town in the Morbihan department of France, in the Bretagne (Brittany) region. Though we know the name, the artist is otherwise anonymous; perhaps he or she made this piece specifically for the train, to represent his or her hometown? The gifts on the train were supposed to be chosen and offered by individuals, making as personal a connection as possible between two nations. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that in our paperwork, the donor of record is “The people of France.”

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At the time, the Merci Train was a big story.  The cars were received with parades and ceremonies; the city of Rockville held an event when the boxcar passed through, and Maryland even declared an official “French Thank You Train Day.” Today the train is not terribly well-known, although there are plenty of fans working to document the fates of the gifts, and of the boxcars themselves. Several cars were scrapped or lost over the years, but the Maryland car is in the collections of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. As of now, our pieces are the only identified gifts from the Maryland car, and that’s what makes these artifacts important to our collections: not that they are particularly related to the county, but that they have survived to represent this moment of American (and French) history. 

Want to learn more? The folks behind mercitrain.org have a state-by-state list of identified cars and artifacts, plus some historic photos from 1949. The Maryland car is sometimes on view at the B&O Museum, and there are lots of photos of the car here. And if you’d like to see our other artifacts (and me!), watch the B&O Museum’s online show, when the artifacts took a “this is your life”-style field trip to visit their old friend the boxcar.

* The process evidently varied from state to state. For example, the DC half-a-car contained “hundreds of gifts” – which were displayed in the windows at Woodies downtown – creating a disposal problem which left the sponsoring committee “temporarily stumped.” (“Overflow of Gifts Poses Problem to Merci Train Unit,” Washington Post, February 22, 1949.)

Since we’ve been skewing a little modern lately, here’s a piece from the early 19th century: the seal of the Orphan’s Court, used by the Montgomery County Register of Wills in the 1810s. The engraved metal die measures 2 inches by 1 ¼ inches, and with the wooden handle the whole thing measures 3 ½ inches tall. There are no makers marks (other than the engraving on the die, of course) but the wood and the metal both show signs of wear. When impressed in wax or stamped on paper, the seal reads “Montgomery County Orphans Court,” with the emblem of two clasped hands, the scales of justice, and a hanging sword.

As explained on the Maryland state website, “‘Orphans’ Court’ is simply the historical name for a court that handles wills and estates. . . In 1777 the Maryland General Assembly formally established an Orphans’ Court and Register of Wills in each county and the City of Baltimore. The structure still operates today.” The Register of Wills was and is responsible for, essentially, the paperwork of the Orphans Court, and as such the court’s official seal falls under his or her jurisdiction:

Then
Laws of Maryland 1786-1800:November 1798. Chap. CI.
12. The orphans court in each county shall keep a seal for the said court, and for the office of register of wills; and each orphans court that hath not already a seal, shall provide the same at the expense of the county, and the said seal shall be fixed to all certificates of the court, or of the register, and to every process and writ of every kind issued from the court. . . .

Now
Maryland Constitution, Article IV
Part I General Provisions
Section 1. The Judicial power of this State is vested in a Court of Appeals, such intermediate courts of appeal as the General Assembly may create by law, Circuit Courts, Orphans’ Courts, and a District Court. These Courts shall be Courts of Record, and each shall have a seal to be used in the authentication of all process issuing from it (amended by Chapter 10, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 1966; Chapter 789, Acts of 1969, ratified Nov. 3, 1970; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 523, Acts of 1980, ratified Nov. 4, 1980).

According to the donor, Judge Ella R. Plummer, the seal was found along with “some papers . . . in the tower of the old Court House Building” (the 1891 Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville) at an unknown date, probably sometime in the 1950s. The donor, or perhaps one of my predecessors, assigned the seal specifically to Solomon Holland, who served as Register of Wills from 1808 until his death in 1839. The “some papers” are almost certainly the collection of Orphans Court summonses in our archives; the poor condition of some pieces could well mean they’d been forgotten in the courthouse tower for a century or so.

Over thirty of these documents (including the one above) are dated December 16, 1817 – so I guess we know what Mr. Holland was doing on that particular day. Each summons “commands” the Sheriff to bring someone to the Orphans Court “on the second Tuesday in February” to, basically, explain his or herself and then (presumably) pay up. Each is signed by Solomon Holland, Regr., and stamped (no ink or wax, just an impression on the paper) with our seal here.

Interestingly, another set of summonses from Holland’s files dates from 1838; those are stamped with a round, rather than oval, seal. The image is slightly different as well, as now there is a single hand holding the scales (see below). Our particular seal, then, was used at least in the 1810s, but changed to a new one by the late 1830s.

My favorite part of this artifact is the fact that it’s been repaired; a close look shows that the metal die is wedged onto the handle with blue paper. Probably it was used so much that the wooden handle wore down, and the die kept falling off the handle; someone made a quick fix. Another fun thing is that researching Mr. Holland brought up some other familiar faces (plus this entertaining Act “authorizing Solomon Holland, late collector of Montgomery County, to complete his collection,” from 1805 – have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet?) Holland served as one of the original commissioners of the Rockville Academy along with Upton Beall, whose home is one of our museums; the Holland home on S. Washington Street was later owned by the family of Dr. Stonestreet, whose office is our other museum; and to top it all off, a portrait of Solomon’s granddaughter, Laura Williams Holland Talbott, hangs on the wall outside my office door.

I have a particular fondness for “groundbreaking” and ribbon-cutting photos.  Everyone always looks so happy!  Sadly, we do not have any ceremonial groundbreaking shovels in our collections, but we do have this pair of scissors, used in 1954 to “open” a section of what we now know as Interstate 270. 

These sterling silver-handled scissors – ten inches long – were made by the Vosscut Co., Germany, and sold by Samuel Kirk & Son.  The scissors are conveniently engraved with an historical summary: “Governor Theodore R. McKeldin / Washington National Pike Fourth Section / Dedicated September 15, 1954.”  We were pretty excited to get this donation in October 1954, so even without that handy inscription, we can learn a lot from our own organizational archives.

Interstate 270 started out as the Washington National Pike, intended to connect Frederick and Rockville.  Surveying was done immediately after the war (remember the surveying plumb bob?) and ground was broken in 1950.  The “fourth section” dedicated with these scissors consisted of a 3.7 mile stretch from Clarksburg (Rt 121) to Germantown (Rt 118); since the “dual highway” was built from north to south, travelers from Frederick had to take 118 to what is now Rt 355 in order to continue to Rockville and points south.

That brings us to the confusing road numbers.  Route 355 was, at that time, Route 240.  The Washington National Pike became New US 240, and 355 became Old US 240/US 355.  By the 1960s, (new) 240 was called 70-S, and by the late 1970s, it was I-270.  This adds a little excitement to researching places along the 270/355 corridor: when it says “Route 240,” which one does it mean?  (Interested in more road/route/transportation history? Visit our library!  Lots of interesting things await you!)

Back to our scissors.  According to newspaper reports, several state dignitaries were on hand to watch the Governor ceremonially sever the black and gold ribbons.  (Alas, I have not yet found any photographs of the momentous dedication of the Fourth Section, and the bits of ribbon that were originally tied to the scissors were gone by the time I took this job.)  For road and/or construction buffs, I also offer the following bit of info from the Washington Post, September 15: “Contracts have been awarded by the Commission for the construction of bridges, interchanges and roadway to carry the highway as far as Rockville. These new sections should be open to the public in 1955, the Commission said. The 3.7-mile section to be opened Wednesday was built by the Williams Construction Company at its low bid of $1,632,193. Work began last October 1.”

The following month, Governor McKeldin donated the scissors to the Historical Society in a special ceremony (held, for no discernible reason, in Kensington).  Mrs. Helen P. Weedon, MCHS Program Chairman, received the scissors on our behalf.  In our archives, we have her handwritten speech accepting the scissors, and then another speech for reporting to Society members at the next meeting.  There are also numerous clippings from local papers, saved in our scrapbooks, that tout the Governor’s generous donation.  (One newspaper does add, as a rather pointed aside, that McKeldin was “campaigning for reelection in the suburban areas;”  he was in a heated race against Democrat H.C. Byrd.   I guess donating a pair of ceremonial scissors was an easy way to gain some good PR.)

But wait, the story does not end there!  Further perusal of our archives brought to light this additional chapter.  In November 1970, the Historical Society renovated the old 1940s garage next to the Beall-Dawson House to serve as a small museum and library.  At the opening ceremony, according to our newsletter, “[Rockville's] Mayor Tuchtan cut the ribbon with silver scissors used by Governor McKeldin at the opening of the 4th Section of National Pike – and they still work!”  Yay, they work… wait, you aren’t supposed to use/wear/play with the accessioned collections!  Oh well, those were the days.  The scissors do not appear to have come to any harm, and perhaps they enjoyed their (presumably last) moment of action. 

From our scrapbooks: A Sentinel photo, October 15, 1970.  You can’t see the scissors (though you can make out the cut ribbons) – I offer this instead for any of our regular patrons who don’t remember the pre-renovation days of the Library.  Yes, that is our library.

The blog has been skewing a little modern in the past few weeks, so here’s something a bit older for your enjoyment. This is an 18th century pewter measure, owned by the Jones family of Chevy Chase.

The family described the piece as a “tankard,” and indeed there are pewter tankards and flagons with lids and thumb-pieces like this one, and some are in the baluster form seen here. However, this particular vessel is eleven inches tall (base to lid), has a base diameter of six inches, and is extremely heavy – not exactly an easily hefted tankard o’ ale, there. This form was commonly used for wine measures, and although our piece does not have its capacity marked, I’ve found other examples of gallon wine measures that are this size and shape. The thumb piece is double volute shape, with a fleur-de-lis on the hinge plate, fairly typical for mid 18th century pieces. The piece is in good, if used, condition, except for the tail of the handle, which has been bent (it should have a nice curly flip to it), and the lid doesn’t fit snugly anymore.

According to the Pewter Collectors’ Club of America, lidded baluster measures were imported from England to the American colonies in the 1740s and 1750s; some were made here, as well. Other than the incised circles on the lid, the only deliberate mark is a small WP (or WF) stamped onto the side of the rim; so far we (I enlisted a colleague in the search this morning) have not identified either a British or American maker to match the mark, so its exact origins are still unknown.

As for its history, this piece came from Clean Drinking Manor, the home of the Jones family. The house was built for Charles Jones around 1750 (it is no longer standing, but was off of Jones Mill Road in Chevy Chase). The donor, Robert Jones Jr., told us in 1976: “The tankard was in the household [by 1775], and when John Courts Jones served with rank of Major, Fourth Maryland regiment, Maryland Continental Line, he used the tankard while on duty and returned it to Clean Drinking Manor upon his discharge.” John Courts Jones, Sr. (1754-1802) served in the Maryland Line, including two years as aide to General William Smallwood, from 1775 until 1783. The Jones family’s story of the ‘tankard’ going off to war and being “used… on duty” always makes me imagine some poor horse charging into battle with this gigantic vessel strapped to the saddle, whomping him on the rear with every step. That’s not what happened, though. If indeed this piece went off to war, it no doubt stayed in the officers’ tent where it belonged; officers supplied their own luxury items (including servants). Anything else Jones brought with him is unknown; did he include a matching set of graduated measures, or was a gallon all he needed? Whatever his reasons for choosing this piece, both the story and the actual piece were “treasured” by the family (to use the donor’s own word), along with other, more traditional mementos of military service.

As I took photos of today’s artifact, one of my colleagues fed me a straight line: “Is that a seat belt or a belt?” I’m so glad you asked. It’s both! This is a seat belt covered in a needlepointed sleeve, worn as a belt by State Senator S. Frank Shore (D – District 17, Montgomery County) in the mid 1980s as he worked to pass a mandatory seat belt law in Maryland.

Senator Shore, who donated the belt in 2005, described it as a “seat belt worn for years during the Seat Belt debates! This was made by Delegate Kay Bienen (Prince George’s County) who needle pointed the belt in Maryland Colors.” Shore’s biography on the Maryland State Archives website notes that he “believes his most significant contribution as a Maryland Senator was ‘fighting for twelve years to get Maryland’s seat belt law!’”An article in the Washington Post on January 27, 1985, includes a photo of Senator Shore showing off his belt; an article on January 31st of that year, after a version of the bill had been “killed” by a House committee, notes that Shore “for weeks has constantly worn a seat belt around the State House to advertise his position.”

Anyone recognize the car manufacturer?

Maryland’s first seat belt safety law became effective on July 1st, 1986; the work of Shore and his colleagues had finally paid off. In 1997 a stronger law, making non-compliance a primary offense, was enacted. (Click here for some national statistics on seat belt laws.) It can be difficult, from an artifact collections standpoint, to get at those aspects of history – like political debates – that do not necessarily generate much material culture. Last week a scrapbook was donated to us, filled with articles, photos etc. related to Montgomery County’s efforts on behalf of the seat belt law – and there was Senator Shore on the first page, proudly showing off his belt. That’s the kind of thing that makes a curator think, “if only we had that belt.” But we already do! It was very kind of the Senator, and Delegate Bienen, to create an artifact related to a major political debate that is not a yard sign or bumper sticker (not that I have anything against yard signs or bumper stickers) and even kinder of Senator Shore to think of us as its proper home.

From the recently donated scrapbook of Montgomery County's involvement in the seat belt safety campaign. Third from left: Senator Shore (and his belt).

This ironstone vegetable dish normally resides in the china cupboard in the Beall-Dawson dining room, but occasionally it gets a chance to sit in a more visible spot. The bowl was donated in the early 1960s by Minnie Yearly, who said that it came to her family from the Carrolls and had been used by Maryland Governor Charles Carroll (1737-1832). According to Miss Yearly it dates from about 1760, although the bowl has no maker’s marks or other identifications. The finial on the domed cover is formed into a little rococo pile of fruit; the donor suggested in a letter that the bowl was used “to keep the creamed spinach, hot beef stews or lamb stews.”

When talking about the Historical Society’s collections, I almost always refer to them as “mine.” “I have a clock like that,” “My quilt has a tape binding,” that kind of thing. This is nonsense, of course. Really, our collections are not even “ours;” we hold them in the public trust; they’re yours, dear Reader. But I have a personal affection for most (not quite all; it’s hard for me to get worked up over, say, an unprovenanced clover seeder) of our artifacts, and it comes out in the way I talk about them.

Not everything is “mine;” sometimes an associated name takes precedence – usually a donor. I’m not sure why I identify so many of our artifacts with their donors instead of their owners; maybe it comes from reading all the donation correspondence, making the personality of the woman in the 1960s far more immediate than that of the dead famous guy (no offense, Gov. Carroll) in the 1760s. This slight discrepency was made clear a few weeks ago, when my – sorry, our collections volunteer suggested we put “the Carroll bowl” on the dining room table for the season. I had to think about it for while, then asked, “Do you mean Miss Yearly’s bowl?” Neither one of us was entirely certain what the other person was talking about.*

Miss Yearly’s – a.k.a. the Carroll family – bowl is on display on the dining room table for a few more weeks, although it will have to go back into the china cupboard (still visible, but you have to know where to look) when the holiday decorations go up in December.

* (That’s why artifact numbering systems are so important! Gc0001 is Gc0001, no matter what name we call it.)

table forkThis two-tined table fork purports to have come from the dowry of Mary Digges (1745-1805), who married Thomas Simm Lee in 1771.  Both were from prominent Maryland families; Lee later was elected the 2nd Governor of Maryland.   This fork, a matching fork, and a bladeless knife handle (also matching), were donated to the Historical Society in 1963 by Caroline Loughborough in memory of her father, Henry Loughborough.  Their family lived at Milton, an estate in Bethesda which is one of the two oldest homes still standing in Montgomery County (Milton and Edgewood, in Spencerville, seem to have some kind of grudge match over who is older; I won’t get into that here.  Supporters of each, feel free to send me your evidence and/or irritable emails because I didn’t bother to do my research this morning).

Forks with two tines were common for centuries, and were still used in the 18th century although the smaller, four-tined fork had been invented by then.  The donor suggests that these pieces were made in England in the 1730s.  The pistol-grip silver handle has a coat of arms engraved on the side.  The donor noted “I am sure it [the coat of arms] is Digges – but maybe not.”  I haven’t been able to identify a Digges or Lee symbol similar to the one on the handle here.  In a letter to our then-curator, Miss Loughborough detailed the somewhat convoluted path the tableware took to get to her hands.  Apparently these three pieces (and probably more, with pieces being lost or broken along the way) descended through three generations of Mary Digges Lee’s daughters; the great-granddaughter gave them to someone unrelated, who then bequeathed them to someone else unrelated, from whom Miss Loughborough “obtained” (donor’s somewhat ambiguous word) the three pieces she eventually gave to us.  Follow that? 

For more on Mary Digges Lee, visit this history written by the Maryland State Archives.  Someday I’ll find that coat of arms, or some Lee family inventories, and work out whether Miss Loughborough was correct.

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