As she stood on the steps of the Howard County Visitor Center on historic Ellicott City’s Main Street, Liz Bobo couldn’t stop smiling.
“This is a happy spot for me,” Bobo admitted, as she waved toward the town’s historic fire station across the street.
“As county executive, I started a big search to find the original bell,” Bobo said. “We found it."
Her smile grew when she kicked off the Howard County Historical Society-led “Year of the Howard County Woman” as its honorary spokeswoman before an appreciative crowd of 40 to 50 people.
“I am so happy to be here,” Bobo told those gathered. “I will do whatever I can to make this a successful year.”
The celebration, created with several partnering groups, will feature a series of lectures, book signings and exhibits, according to Shawn Gladden, executive director of the historical society.
“We wanted to recognize the 100th year anniversary of the 19th amendment’s ratification giving women the right to vote,” Gladden said. “We wanted to apply it to our hometown and Howard County.”
Gladden’s staff and volunteers scoured the historical society’s records to learn about the various women who played an important role in Howard County’s past and present.
“There is a ‘wow’ factor in this,” said Paulette Lutz, deputy director of the Howard County Historical Society. “The women in Howard County have always seemed to be quiet. Not true. I’ve been impressed.”
Fifty women were identified by the historical society for their achievements. Each week, one woman will be featured on its Facebook page.
“I’ve lived in the county over 60 years,” Lutz said. “I thought I knew a lot about the history of Howard County. When I do research, I realized I just scratched the surface. There is so much there. It is just remarkable. I’m having a ball.”
The list of featured women began on Jan. 10 with Alda Hopkins Clark, the founder of the historical society. Her portrait was displayed outside the Visitor Center during the opening ceremony.
“She was not a person to brag or boast,” Lutz said. “She raised a family and had a lot of accomplishments. She is very impressive.”
Hopkins Clark’s granddaughter Martha Clark attending the opening ceremony. The owner of Clark’s Elioak Farm in Clarksville, Martha Clark will also be in the spotlight during the year.
The women’s stories and accomplishments cover the spectrum, said Gladden, who recommended checking the Howard County Historical Society website and Facebook page frequently to find out who else will be showcased.
“Women played a significant role in Howard County,” said Ellen Flynn Giles, after the ceremony. “Some in the past, some in the present. It is going to be great . . . to remind people.”
Ellicott City-based environmental nonprofit Patapsco Heritage Greenway is partnering with the historical society to host Patapsco Days in March. This year’s theme, “Women: A force in History,” will feature a month of exploring the history, environment and recreational uses of the park. It will open with a kickoff program, “The Importance of the Matriarchal Way,” on March 1 at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum and will close on March 28 at the Elkridge Branch of the Howard County Library with the program “Maryland Women’s Fight for the Vote.”
“We are lucky to work with [Gladden],” said Lindsey Baker, executive director of Patapsco Heritage Greenway and former executive director of the Laurel Historical Society. “We guessed many people would be focusing on women.”
The Howard County Historical Society partnered with the county Office of Tourism to host the opening event and plans to partner with the League of Women Voters, local schools and other organizations.
“I think this is going to be an incredible year,” said Amanda Hof, executive director of Howard County Tourism. “The response we got for this event speaks to the movement of women.”
In August, the Howard County Historical Society will set up an exhibit during the Howard County Fair about the first women voters of Howard County. After the fair, the exhibit will be featured at the Historical Center in the Miller Branch Library.
“We are finding the names of the first women voters in Howard County,” Gladden said. “These are the little stories we like to celebrate.”
When she left public office in 2015, Bobo announced she would not chair or sit on any board or commission. When she was approached to be the honorary spokeswoman for the “Year of the Howard County Woman,” she couldn’t say no.
“I love Howard County,” Bobo said. “I am really happy to be part of this. I love the whole concept of the year of the woman.”
Bobo will be the featured speaker at the Howard County Historical Society’s annual meeting on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City. She will talk about her role in politics and as the first woman county executive in Howard County and in the state of Maryland.
“What a great kickoff," Gladden said. "We’re looking forward to learning some history.”
For a list of upcoming events in celebration of the “Year of the Howard County Woman," go to hchsmd.org.