Mrs. Jean Walsh, a pillar of the Catonsville community and editor of former iterations of the Catonsville Times, died Sunday at 100 years old. Her efforts to preserve and teach Catonsville history have left a lasting imprint on the community.
The Baltimore native moved to Catonsville in 1936; her work over the next 65 years has “an impact today on things that probably wouldn’t have existed” without her, said Ron Walsh, her son.
In historical archives in the Catonsville Room of the Catonsville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library — which Mrs. Walsh helped create in 1963 as a board member of the Friends of the Catonsville Library — numerous clips recount her work as an unofficial historian and journalist for what was known then as the Herald Argus and Baltimore Countian newspaper, later renamed the Catonsville Times.
Mrs. Walsh, who had studied at the then-Maryland Institute of Art but had no prior news experience, found herself replacing a retiring editor at the Herald Argus in 1964.
According to Ron Walsh, his mother was approached by the Herald Argus editor at the time, Marie O’Dea, who asked her if she knew anyone who might take the position; Mrs. Walsh nominated herself for the role, and served until 1974, Ron Walsh said.
By many accounts, Mrs. Walsh was driven, focused and "set her goals and achieved what she was after,” said Lucy McKean, a current member and former president of the Catonsville Historical Society. McKean met Mrs. Walsh in the 1980s during McKean’s time on the board of the Baltimore County Historical Trust, on which Mrs. Walsh also served, she said.
As a newswoman, Mrs. Walsh was proud of her work documenting the Catonsville Nine, her son said.
In an oral history kept in library archives, Mrs. Walsh recalled arriving late to the scene at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Frederick Road in May 1968, having not been notified by the Catonsville Nine organizers that the clergymen and sisters planned to storm the Catonsville draft board and burn 378 draft records in protest of the Vietnam War.
Reporters from Baltimore papers and news stations were already there, alerted to the protest in advance, Mrs. Walsh said during a 1977 interview. Pushing her way into the building that housed the draft board, Mrs. Walsh said she was advised by television newscasters that officials from the Wilkens police station, FBI and U.S. Army were barring everyone from the scene.
A Wilkens police lieutenant recognized Mrs. Walsh, however, and brought her to the police station, where she shot the historic and widely circulated photo of the group minutes after their arrest, the only one taken of them just after the staged burning. Her coverage earned her recognition at the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, according to a 1977 issue of the Catonsville Times.
Other than her oral history, Mrs. Walsh’s reporting on the Catonsville Nine, like much of her work at the Herald Argus, is lost.
“We had them all,” Catonsville Historical Society president Anne Luco said about the back issues of the Catonsville Times, but 150 years-worth of the issues “were all destroyed in the flood last year.”
Her work won’t be found in the Catonsville Room either; the library branch disposed of the microfilm containing the old paper clippings, including Mrs. Walsh’s work, after its microfilm reader broke, a spokeswoman for the library system said.
Print clippings that still exist in the library’s archives, many from the Evening Sun, Herald Argus and Catonsville Times, depict Mrs. Walsh’s work outside of the newspaper. A July 7, 1976, article in The Evening Sun describes her “23-year effort” to build up local history materials in the Catonsville library through her displays of photographs and slides, maps, books and other documents on Catonsville’s past.
The Baltimorean also created wooden miniature models of Frederick Road streetscapes, sold off to raise funds for the Women’s Club of Catonsville, a Dec. 1, 1993, article in the Catonsville Times said.
Traveling to various universities and community organizations with her colleague Elizabeth Grimm, Mrs. Walsh showed photos on 35 millimeter slides and lectured on the historic architecture of Catonsville, said Lisa Vicari, a volunteer with the Friends of the Catonsville Library, which oversees the Catonsville Room.
The “Jean Walsh Room” was established at the Catonsville Historical Society’s old building and housed Mrs. Walsh’s 7-by-8-foot replica of her childhood home, the historic Homewood mansion built in 1830 on Edmondson Avenue. She constructed the painstakingly detailed model over two years, and furnished it with antique replicas, as pictured in a Catonsville Times article dated Feb. 15, 1976. The model dollhouse was a favorite among children who visited the society’s building around Christmas, Vicari said.
That replica has since found a home with the current owners of Mrs. Walsh’s 717 Edmondson Avenue home, and her photographs have been collected and dispersed among her three children, Ron Walsh said.
Mrs. Walsh made it her mission to “put people in touch with history,” her son said. Her well-loved column in the Herald Argus showed readers what was happening on that day in history 20, 50 and 100 years ago, Vicari said.
As an organizer of the Catonsville Bicentennial Committee, Mrs. Walsh was a project director for the filming of “The Man Who Loved the Stars,” which told the story of Benjamin Banneker, according to a 1977 issue of The Evening Sun. She also helped establish the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Catonsville.
As an original organizer of the historical society, Mrs. Walsh helped boost “membership from 19 to 1,148 in six months,” according to the 1976 Evening Sun issue. It describes Mrs. Walsh as “among the first to step forward when something needs to be done in Catonsville.”
There was “very much a glass ceiling” during Mrs. Walsh’s time in Catonsville and a perception, even after World War II, that women “should stay at home and raise the children and not have a career,” her son said.
A mother to a daughter and two sons, Mrs. Walsh did not want to be known as just a homemaker; “she wanted to do other things and make a contribution” to feel “she was giving back to the community,” Ron Walsh said.
During her time in Catonsville, Mrs. Walsh was lauded as the Catonsville Business Association’s 1977 Citizen of the Year and recognized by the American Association of University Women’s Towson chapter in its list of 40 Baltimore County Outstanding Women from 1930 to 1975, according to her obituary.
She was active in numerous community organizations, including the General German Orphan Home, Catonsville Women’s Club, Catonsville United Methodist Church (where she met her husband of 71 years, Howard Walsh) and the Catonsville Symphony Society.
Her work lives on in Catonsville, and “lends a cohesion” to its identity, Vicari said.
Her son takes comfort in knowing her work “didn’t die with her; it lives in perpetuity,” he said.
In addition to her son Ron, Mrs. Walsh is survived by a son, Richard Walsh of Laurel, and a daughter, Jeri, of Madison, Wisconsin, as well as their children and grandchildren.