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A century after the women’s vote, Goucher College to be honored as key suffrage site

Lilian Welsh, professor of physiology and hygiene, was the guiding spirit of the suffrage movement at Goucher College. Welsh was one of 100 students and faculty members who took part in a Washington suffrage parade the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1919.
Lilian Welsh, professor of physiology and hygiene, was the guiding spirit of the suffrage movement at Goucher College. Welsh was one of 100 students and faculty members who took part in a Washington suffrage parade the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1919. (Courtesy of Goucher College)

A Baltimore County college is about to be honored as part of a national campaign to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote.

Goucher College officials are scheduled to unveil a highway marker Friday that commemorates the role many of the school’s students and educators played in the hard-fought struggle for women’s suffrage more than a century ago.

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The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, an Illinois-based nonprofit, and the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center in Annapolis, a member of the collaborative, chose Goucher to recognize its community members’ efforts in the years leading up to 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to cast ballots in the nation’s elections.

At a period in time when many Americans still fiercely opposed the idea of women voting, students and faculty members at Goucher — then an all-women’s college in Baltimore City — took part in protests, gave speeches, invited national figures to campus and attended controversial marches in the nation’s capital.

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The marker officially places Goucher on the National Votes for Women Trail, a database the collaborative is developing for the centennial that lists places deemed important to the suffrage movement. The trail includes more than 1,100 locations so far.

The organization plans to supplement about 250 with physical markers.

The one at Goucher, which was chartered in 1885 and moved to its current location in Towson in 1953, also will be the eighth of at least 11 the Women’s Heritage Center intends to see installed at key Maryland sites by the end of the year.

Goucher began admitting men in 1986.

Other marker sites in the state include Westminster, where an influential Maryland suffrage group, the Just Government League, was established in 1909; Hyattsville, where a caravan of suffragettes in 1913 stopped on its way from New York City to Washington, where the women would present Congress with a petition containing 75,000 signatures; and Garrett County, where members of the Just Government League in 1914 crisscrossed the area to enlist the backing of rural women.

Working with a state commission formed seven years ago to organize events for the centennial, the Maryland State Highway Administration helped provide the first five of the 11 markers.

But Diana Bailey, director of the Women’s Heritage Center, said her group and others realized early on that many of the sites important to suffrage in Maryland stood nowhere near state highways. In Baltimore, for example, dozens of African-American women — excluded from membership in the mostly white, larger suffrage organizations — met in private homes and churches to support the cause.

The organization won backing from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation in Philadelphia to finance at least another five memorials. The most recent, in honor of African-American suffragists who lived and worked in West Baltimore, was dedicated in November.

History tells us that Maryland was in some ways one of the more resistant states to suffrage. A Baltimore judge sued to overturn the 19th Amendment, for example, a case that was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922. The state did even not ratify the measure until 1941.

But Maryland suffragists did important work that has gone largely unheralded over the past century, Bailey said, working largely below the national radar to garner support at the grassroots level.

Members of the Goucher community were prime examples of that work, she said, including Lilian Welsh, a professor of physiology and hygiene who is known to have inspired students to take part in suffrage causes. Welsh also helped organize Goucher’s chapter of a national suffrage league.

Longtime history professor Thaddeus Thomas was also a leader in the suffrage fight, and another history professor, Annie Abel, directly asked President Woodrow Wilson for his support on a suffrage amendment.

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Goucher students also took part in some of the most pivotal events of the national movement, according to Goucher spokeswoman Tara de Souza. They attended the national convention of National American Women’s Suffrage Association, which took place at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore in 1906, and in a widely publicized march on Washington in 1913 and pickets on the White House in 1917.

The Goucher delegation of students was the largest single college group to stand in protest during the White House rally.

“Goucher is easily deserving of this honor,” Bailey said.

A program of speakers is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Ungar Atheneum on the Goucher campus. Presenters will include Goucher professor of history emerita Jean H. Baker, Morgan State University archivist Ida Jones, and Beverly Carter, the archivist of the DuBois Circle literary club in Baltimore, many of whose members were active in the African-American suffrage movement.

The marker unveiling is set to take place at 3 p.m.

The events are open to the public.

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