The GBC’s Baltimore Women’s Advisory Board (BWAB), which promotes the advancement of women in professional careers, invites you to join them in celebrating Women’s History Month by learning about some of the Maryland women who have broken barriers or made a significant contributions to society during the state’s history. Here BWAB has compiled summaries of some of the notable Maryland women worth learning more about. Like, share and comment on our Women’s History social media posts by following @GBCorg.
Marin Aslop is the first woman named Music Director of a major American orchestra – the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which she joined in 2007. She is now music director laureate at the BSO. She has broken other barriers, including being the first women to conduct on the Last Night of BBC Proms and the first women to conduct for a Major British, South American, and Viennese orchestra. In 2008 Aslop created OrchKids, a music program for youth in Baltimore City. The year-round program aims to ensure future orchestras are diverse. Read more.
Sheree Briscoe is the first African American woman to be named Deputy Commissioner for the Baltimore City Police Department. Briscoe was promoted to the position in March 2021. She has served in the Baltimore Police Department for 26 years, including as Colonel the Department’s Criminal Investigation office since. Briscoe is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Coppin State University. Read more.
Isabel Mercedes Cumming
Born and raised during the early part of her life in Puerto Rico, Isabel Mercedes Cumming is the first woman and first Latina named as Baltimore City’s Inspector General. The position, which has a six-year term, is charged with ensuring ethical government by investigating waste, fraud and abuse. Cumming, who assumed the post in January 2018, is a former Maryland assistant state prosecutor who handled corruption cases. According to the Baltimore Sun she has doubled the diversity of the staff. It includes seven women, with 12 of the 17 staff being people of color. Read more.
Sol de Ande Mendez Eaton
Sol de Ande Mendez Eaton was born in San Cristobel, Venezuela on June 14, 1932, and has lived in Maryland for thirty years. Eaton’s accomplishments include serving as Co-Chair of the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In this position she oversaw the first statewide conference on civil rights, building better relations between law enforcement and the public, improving the treatment of migrant workers, and helping to decrease discrimination in employment, housing, education, and health. Her work at the local and state levels has included pioneering efforts in women’s health and domestic violence. At the national level, Eaton has served as Treasurer and Chair of the Health Committee for the National Association of Commissions for Women. At the international level, Eaton served as a consultant on health issues at the Fifth International Women’s Congress and at other forums. Read more.
Donna Edwards was the first African American women elected to represent Maryland in the United States Congress. Congresswomen Edwards was elected in June 2008, where she would go on to serve five terms in Congress. During her time in Congress, she served on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Committee on Standards and Official Conduct, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. In her last term, she was a member of the Democratic leadership team as co-chair of the House Democrat’s Steering and Policy Committee. Read more.
Beatrice “Bea” Gaddy
Known as the “Mother Teresa of Baltimore” or “St. Bea,” Beatrice “Bea” Gaddy rose from poverty to become one of Baltimore’s leading activists for the homeless and poor. She founded a homeless shelter and community kitchen, promoted voter education and became involved in summer youth programs. Ms. Gaddy was also elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1999 and earned numerous awards for her work. Read more.
Mary Elizabeth Garrett
In 1889, the trustees of Johns Hopkins University found they were not able to open a medical school due to a financial shortfall of $500,000. Mary Elizabeth Garrett, along with a group of other women, organized an effort to raise the money for the new medical school – but with certain conditions. Ms. Garrett, who was born on March 5, 1854 into a wealthy and prominent Baltimore family. Her father, John W. Garrett, was the president of the B & O Railroad. Ms. Garret informed Johns Hopkins’ trustees that the women’s group would provide the funds only if the medical school provided graduate-level courses and admitted women on the same terms as men. Ms. Garret and the women’s group raised the funds and in 1893, Johns Hopkins Medical School opened its doors as the first graduate medical school and first co-educational medical school in the country. Ms. Garrett contributed more than half of the needed funds. She went on to become a major advocate in the women’s suffrage movement in Maryland. Ms. Garrett died on April 3, 1915 – five years before the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. Read more.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, widely known as “Mother Seton” was the first native-American canonized as a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She is originally from New York City. Widowed at the age of 29, she raised five children. With the assistance of John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop of Baltimore, she eventually re-located to Baltimore, where she established the first free school for girls in 1808. The school became the forerunner of the Catholic School system. In 1809, Mother Seton founded the first American religious order for women known as the Sisters of Charity. The order evolved into the Daughters and Sisters of Charity, expanding throughout the United States and globally. Mother Seton and her daughters also established schools, orphanages and hospitals throughout the world. In 1975, Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mother Seton to be a Saint. Read more.
Baltimore Orioles head groundskeeper Nicole Sherry is one of only two women in Major League Baseball’s 118-year history to be named a head groundskeeper, and she is the first woman to be named professional facilities director for the national Sports Turf Managers Association’s board of directors. Prior to joining the Orioles’ organization, Sherry worked for three-years as the head groundskeeper for the minor-league Trenton Thunder in New Jersey. Prior to that she had served as an assistant groundskeeper (2001-2003) for the Orioles. She joined the Orioles in 2006 when the top groundskeeper job opened up. Sherry grew up in Wilmington, Del., and graduated from the University of Delaware. Read more.
Bernice Smith White
Bernice Smith White was a community worker, civic leader, education and a leader in the struggle for equal rights for women. As the first Director of Community Education and Relations of the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission, she worked to bring her organization’s message to Maryland residents. She interpreted Baltimore City’s civil rights law for the public via radio, television, movies, print media, workshops, and conferences. This lead to a career with the Social Security Administration where she monitored various programming. Read more.
Nellie Louise Young
Nellie Louise Young was the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in Maryland. Young was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Dr. Howard E. Young, Maryland’s first African American pharmacist and Estelle Hall Young. Upon graduating from what is now Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Young enrolled at Howard University where she later obtained a medical degree. Her father’s pharmacy served as a place of inspiration for Young as a child and she later opened her own practice above his drugstore in 1932. Read more.