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Elinora Bowdoin Bolton, French teacher

Colleges and UniversitiesCollege SportsRoman CatholicismChristianityUniversity of Maryland, College Park

Elinora Bowdoin Bolton, a former French teacher who had been a celebrated 1940s women's tennis player, died of heart failure in her sleep Tuesday at the Keswick Multicare Center. The former Howard County resident was 93.

Family members said she was born Elinora Bowdoin in the family home at 1106 N. Charles St., which now houses the Brewer's Art restaurant. Her father moved his family to Somerset Road in Roland Park after he became displeased with the construction of the Monumental Life Insurance building across Charles Street.

Her father, whose Huguenot family first settled in North America in 1685 and came to Baltimore by the mid-19th century, was in the Army in France at the time of her birth. Her maternal great-uncle, Robert McLane, was Baltimore's mayor during the Great Fire of 1904, said her son, Stephen G. Bolton of Baltimore, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researcher.

He said that at 7, following her parents' divorce and her mother's remarriage, she, her mother and sister moved to Paris. She was schooled there but spent summers with her father in Roland Park.

In the spring of 1937, she was presented at the Court of St. James's before King George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, an event she rarely discussed, her son said.

She returned to Baltimore the next year and made her debut at the Bachelors Cotillon. She earned a certificate at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1938.

After her mother's death in 1939, she returned to Baltimore and lived with her father. She worked registering patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency room. Family members also said her father encouraged her to play tennis and compete in tournaments as a means of meeting friends.

She and her sister, Cecelia, were photographed for The Baltimore Sun's sports pages. The two made news as they played against each other. One 1940 story said the two sisters "came from France to show Baltimore how to win the city tennis tournament." The sports reporter wrote "when they met each other, it was steadiness vs. steadiness, with Elinora having the stronger serve and harder shots and Cecelia superior tactics." Stories said that their competitors were "baffled in trying to solve the problem of how to defeat the Bowdoins."

Her son, Stephen, said that she met her future husband, Robert Harrison Bolton, at a 1940 debutante soiree at the Alcazar Ballroom on Cathedral Street.

They married in 1943 in her father's living room while her future husband was on a three-day leave from the Army Air Corps, where he was a captain and was later awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. They honeymooned at New York's Hotel Pennsylvania, her son said.

Family members said that after the birth of their first child, Mrs. Bolton converted to Roman Catholicism. The couple initially lived in Pikesville and in 1952 acquired a property on Landing Road in Elkridge, where they raised seven sons and three daughters in an old farmhouse. The family kept a goat, and her husband had a greenhouse and raised orchids as a hobby.

"She was a firm believer in a life of the mind and in education for its own sake. She resumed her own studies once her youngest child had entered grade school," her son said. "She earned a bachelor's degree in French at UMBC in 1970 and graduated in its first class alongside her second son."

Mrs. Bolton taught French and its literature in UMBC's Department of Modern Languages. She also taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she earned a master's degree in 1972, and at the Catholic University.

"Her classes were not easy grades," her son said. "She was of the mind that you didn't miss class unless you could prove a death."

She enjoyed bridge and travel. She was a Walters Art Museum docent and led French-speaking tours.

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City. She will be buried in Green Mount Cemetery, where her family was among the original investors.

In addition to her son, survivors include six other sons, Timothy W. Bolton of Fort Myers, Fla., Robert G. Bolton of Baltimore, Christopher J. Bolton of Woodstock, Ga., John A. Bolton of Columbia, Andrew J. Bolton of New Orleans and James G. Bolton of Catonsville; three daughters, Katharine W. Bolton of Petaluma, Calif., Alice B. Little of Fort Myers and Mary T. Hipsley of Catonsville; a brother, Winthrop Smith of Gorham, Maine; three sisters, Cecelia Hill Gardner of Ann Arbor, Mich., Jane Smith Moody of Falmouth, Maine, and Dana Smith Poole of New York City; 21 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. Her husband of 61 years died in 2004.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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