With her trademark square-lens pince-nez glasses and stylish hats, Marie Oehl von Hattersheim Bauernschmidt -- better known as Mrs. B. -- was for 50 years an outspoken critic of politicians, graft and cronyism while at the same time remaining a tireless advocate for the improvement of city schools.
Her election-eve radio broadcasts, which began in 1927, quickly became a local tradition, as listeners tuned in to hear whom Mrs. B. was supporting or denouncing. What bothered politicians most was that her advice was often heeded by voters.
She crusaded against gambling and liquor establishments and for a better police force. She created rows over political appointments, budgets, tax limitation and gasoline filling stations.
She waged a relentless war against mayors Broening, Jackson, McKeldin and D'Alesandro the elder, and ferociously attacked Northwest Baltimore Democratic political leader James H. "Jack" Pollock, who she claimed had mob ties.
She battled Gov. Albert C. Ritchie over a fifth term and Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor when he refused to renounce the support of longtime political bosses William Curran and Pollock.
When she learned that Howard Jackson was planning to run for mayor, she promised to expose him as an alcoholic if he got in the race. He did. She did.
A lifelong Democrat with decidedly independent political views, she stated more than once that she had to hold her nose while voting the ticket.
A tall, statuesque woman who fancied high-necked dresses, Bauernschmidt was a familiar figure at City Hall, where she could be seen waving her finger at Mayor Howard Jackson and saying, "Now, listen to me, Howard Jackson," or "Now, don't try to get away with that with me."
She once said, "You have to handle politicians with kid gloves and you have to have a rock in your mitt."
To another politician she said, "Look here, big boy, bigger boys than you have tried to stop me, and they've never succeeded."
"Possessing a determination that would not be denied, and a militant manner, she soon became known as the lady who speaks her mind, and she made no secret that she liked to fight it out," said The Sun at her death in 1962.
Fearless, she pressed her campaigns far beyond the city line to the state legislature and even Congress.
"I never go to bat with wet ammunition." "I'm not going to play poker with that bird." "Hot footin' it to see my lawyer" were expressions that soon became familiar to Baltimoreans.
Making it fit
Bauernschmidt got her nickname in 1938 when a Sun editor found a solution to the dilemma of trying to fit her name into one-column headlines.
His headline read: "Mrs. B Cites Task of Her Successor," and below the headline was an explanation.
B stands for Bauernschmidt,
The Lady named Marie;
The name's too long to fit
So she's labeled Mistress B.
Born and raised in a rowhouse on South Paca Street, at the age of 14 she withdrew from school because of poor health and worked as a cashier for $4 a week in a grocery store.
She married William Bauernschmidt, the son of a prosperous Baltimore brewer, in 1896 and soon became interested in charitable and civic work.
She established the Public School Association in 1919, a private group that worked for the improvement of city schools. She remained secretary of the organization until 1953.
"A believer in direct action, she fought hammer and tongs against what she called the deplorable condition of the schools," reported The Sun in 1962.
"She carried her crusade to the School Board, the City Council, the Mayor, the Governor, the grand jury and the courts. She spoke before gatherings of a few and before large audiences, wherever she could find hearers.
"Supplied with ammunition by the more timid, she shifted her attacks constantly, attacking here the condition of the schools' fire escapes, there the extravagances in contract costs. Lashing out this way and that, Mrs. Bauern-schmidt won improvement after improvement."
Words to remember
A 1947 Sun Magazine article recorded some of her more memorable public pronouncements:
On city councilman -- "Their sole purpose in going to the chamber evidently is to chew tobacco and smoke cigars."
On women -- "Sometimes when I'm around a bunch of old hens it's all I can do to contain myself."
On guests of honor (1938) -- "The Governor, Mayor and aspirants for political office should not be booked as the main attraction at christenings, weddings and oyster roasts."
On film censorship -- "Censorship for adults is silly and as far as children are concerned it is useless."
On her philosophy: "I'm not a crusader, an uplifter or saint. But I do have an abiding faith in God -- and a determination to take a hand in all matters that affect the lives of our school children. In other words, in all government."
On retiring: "I have been interested in politics since I was a child and I don't expect to lose interest until they carry me out of the church."
By 1951, with her health failing, Mrs. B.'s appearances were less frequent before the school board, City Council and at public meetings.
For the first time in 24 years Baltimoreans were not treated to her election-eve broadcast. She continued living in her mansion at the corner of St. Paul Street and University Parkway until her death in 1962, at the age of 87.
"Mrs. Bauernschmidt never received any material award for her civic activities," said The Sun. "Her philanthropies, on the other hand, were many. From her purse she frequently paid medical bills of ill and crippled children."
An Evening Sun editorial said she had pointed more than her finger at public officials.
"She shook her fist in fury, too, and at the height of her career she had so captured the imagination of a large section of the city's independent voters that a couple of good shakes from her were enough to give the offender the shivers and perhaps make him turn over a new leaf."
Pub Date: 11/03/96