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The Aegis
Harford County

Havre de Grace dedicates, unveils marker honoring Elizabeth Forbes, women’s suffragist from Harford County

When Amy Rosenkrans was a history teacher at Havre de Grace High School, she made a point to share with her students several stories about the history of their hometown.

“I knew that Washington slept here, Lafeyette gave us our name, that we almost became the capital of the United States, and that Matilda O’Neill saved her father [John O’Neill] from the British in the War of 1812,” said Rosenkrans, a native of Havre de Grace. “But I never learned or taught about the role of Havre de Grace women or Harford County women in the women’s suffrage movement. Actually, I’m ashamed to say I never even thought about it.”

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It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago, while attending a lecture about Maryland’s role in the century-old fight for women’s right to vote that Rosenkrans started wondering about the local history. So she started digging.

“I made it my mission to find out what happened in here Harford County and more importantly what happened here in Havre de Grace. And guess what? So much happened here,” she said. “And so many Harford County women participated in the suffrage movement.”

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Rosenkrans’ research led to last Saturday, when a historical marker highlighting Fallston resident Elizabeth Hamilton Chew Forbes was dedicated and unveiled at Tydings Park, near the spot where the Just Government League came with their horse-drawn prairie schooner on June 30, 1915, and held a rally for women’s right to vote. Prior to the unveiling the city held a women’s suffrage parade in which participants, dressed as suffragists, walked through downtown.

Forbes was the co-founder and vice president of the Harford County chapter of the Just Government League, and was instrumental in organizing the rally.

The marker was provided by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, a Syracuse, New York-based organization that has provided grants for multiple historic markers around the country, including one in Havre de Grace to honor Marquis de Lafayette’s stop in the city during the 1820s. Forbes’ marker is one of about 250 the foundation is funding on the National Votes for Women Trail, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, according to Steve Bodnar, a representative of the Pomeroy Foundation.

Forbes involvement in the women’s suffrage movement went beyond the prairie schooner campaign. She helped organize numerous other events in Harford County and played an important role on the national stage, Rosenkrans said.

“One of the most notable events in which she participated were the Watchfire demonstrations held in front of the White House during World War I,” she said. “It was those demonstrations where women’s suffragists burnt the speeches of [President] Woodrow Wilson, because they said he was a hypocrite. He was out there defending freedom in the world when half the United States was not free [to vote].”

Forbes was arrested and jailed for her participation in the Watchfire demonstrations, the only Harford County suffragist to have spent time in jail for her suffragist activities, Rosenkrans said.

After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Forbes continued to fight for women’s rights, according to Rosenkrans. She was present with Maryland Gov. J. Millard Tawes signed the Equal Rights for Women bill in the 1960s that made Maryland the fourth state to ask Congress to propose an equal rights amendment, which would guarantee all American citizens the same legal rights regardless of sex.

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“While this marker only has the name of Elizabeth Forbes,” Rosenkrans said, “she is representative of all the Harford County women who fought to get the right to vote.”

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Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin reflected during Saturday’s dedication ceremony about the courage of women like Forbes and other suffragists, who he noted had an uphill battle at the time of the rally.

“Now we as Americans here today would think, ‘What a great crowd to speak to. Who wouldn’t be for voting rights for everybody?’” Martin said, before telling how the then-mayor of Havre de Grace, at the end of their speeches, told the suffragists, “You did a great job. You almost made me a believer.”

“What does that tell you about the crowd they had to speak in front of? Some were for them, some were against them, some just weren’t quite sure yet,” he said. “These women stood here and tried to plea their case to Americans, to allow the other half of the human population to vote ... I call that courage, I call that Havre de Grace courage.”

During the parade before the marker dedication, Martin said, they stopped along Union Avenue to sing happy birthday to resident Mabel Hart, who was turning 102.

“Reflect on the irony that we just said hello to a living women, who when she was born her mother couldn’t vote in 1919,” Martin told the crowd. “We’re not talking about ancient history here.”

Aegis editor S. Wayne Carter Jr. contributed to this article.


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