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Historical marker honoring Harford County suffragist Elizabeth Forbes will be placed in Havre de Grace

Harford County resident Elizabeth Forbes is pictured with her children in the June 26, 1915, edition of Maryland Suffrage News. Forbes, one of many women throughout Maryland who worked to win the right for women to vote in the early 20th century, will be honored with a historical marker in Havre de Grace.
Harford County resident Elizabeth Forbes is pictured with her children in the June 26, 1915, edition of Maryland Suffrage News. Forbes, one of many women throughout Maryland who worked to win the right for women to vote in the early 20th century, will be honored with a historical marker in Havre de Grace. (Courtesy of Amy Rosenkrans)

Harford County resident Elizabeth Forbes, one of many women throughout Maryland who worked to win the right for women to vote in the early 20th century, will be honored with a historical marker in Havre de Grace.

Elizabeth Hamilton Chew Forbes, who was born in 1882 and died in 1971, lived in Fallston and was married to a local businessman. Both were Quakers and were advocates in a number of social issues.

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“One of her biggest [causes] that she worked for was women’s suffrage,” said Amy Rosenkrans, a Havre de Grace resident who has spent the past six to eight months conducting research on Forbes and the women’s suffrage movement in Cecil and Harford counties as a volunteer with the nonprofit Maryland Women’s Heritage Center.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment, which was introduced in Congress in 1878, was not ratified until 1920 after decades of protest and campaigns by women’s suffragists to persuade the public and politicians.

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Rosenkrans applied to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, of Syracuse, New York, for a grant for the marker, which will be part of the National Votes for Women Trail, a project led by the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites.

It will be placed in Tydings Park in recognition of when suffragists made a campaign stop in the city in 1915 and Forbes’ efforts to support that campaign in Harford County. The marker is scheduled to be unveiled in March, according to a news release issued by Erika Quesenbery Sturgill, economic development director for the City of Havre de Grace.

Forbes was a co-founder and president of the Harford County chapter of the Just Government League of Maryland, “one of several women in upper Harford County and Fallston” who formed the chapter in 1912, according to Rosenkrans.

Rosenkrans, who maintains a blog on the local suffrage movement, has found documentation of Forbes traveling around the county giving “open-air speeches” about women’s right to vote. One place she visited was the Havre de Grace Racetrack, known as the Graw, where she would pass out flyers during racing season.

Moore also worked with fellow suffragist Estelle Moore to make arrangements to welcome to Harford County Just Government League members riding a horse-drawn “prairie schooner” wagon through the state in 1915 as part of their campaign to promote women’s suffrage. Forbes, Moore and “prominent Harford County men rolled out the red carpet for the Prairie Schooner,” according to Rosenkrans’ blog.

The Just Government League Prairie Schooner is shown on its 350-mile journey through the counties of Southern Maryland in this photo that appeared in the May 29, 1915 edition of Maryland Suffrage News.
The Just Government League Prairie Schooner is shown on its 350-mile journey through the counties of Southern Maryland in this photo that appeared in the May 29, 1915 edition of Maryland Suffrage News. (Courtesy of Amy Rosenkrans)

The wagon traveled through Harford, starting in the Bradshaw area, in late June and early July of 1915. The riders had a “terrible reception” when traveling through the Edgewood and Magnolia areas, but things were much improved by the time they arrived in Aberdeen. About 800 people turned out in Havre de Grace to welcome the suffragists to City Park — now Tydings Park, according to Rosenkrans.

Forbes later took part in protests for women’s suffrage in front of the White House. She was arrested and spent a few days in the Washington, D.C., city jail. Forbes was dubbed “the jailbird” by other activists with whom she worked after the passage of the 19th Amendment, as she remained involved with groups such as the League of Women Voters, according to Rosenkrans.

“They called her ‘the jailbird’ because she was the only one amongst the women who had been in jail,” Rosenkrans said.

Her research on the suffrage movement continues, and Rosenkrans is urging people with relatives who were active in the movement to contact her with photos or any other documentation they might have. People can send her an email at amyrosenkransphd@gmail.com.

“Our goal, when we do the unveiling in March, is to bring as many descendants of the suffragists as can be there,” she said.

Rosenkrans is a former history teacher at Havre de Grace High School, and she currently teaches middle school social studies in Baltimore City Public Schools. She had planned to get her students involved in her research about the suffrage movement this spring, but that was not possible because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent school closures.

Her goal as a teacher is to ensure the students see themselves in the historical events and figures they study.

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“I try to empower my kids to learn that they can be and they can do, based on the stories of yesterday,” Rosenkrans said.

She and her students do not just rely on textbooks, but they act as “history detectives,” studying primary sources and oral history created by those who lived in the past.

“We’ve got to look at all those pieces and put then together and form our own understanding of what history was,” Rosenkrans said.

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