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Wilhelmina Godwin, 93, worked at Woman's Industrial Exchange


Wilhelmina Godwin, who wrapped cupcakes and sold baby sweaters until she was 91, died Wednesday of heart failure at Golden Age Nursing Home in Woodbine. The Rodgers Forge resident was 93.

A sales clerk, greeter and venerable presence at the Woman's Industrial Exchange for nearly 40 years, Miss Godwin kept a guest book of celebrities who visited the downtown Baltimore tearoom and shop, many of whom she invited via personal notes she delivered to the Mechanic Theatre's stage door.

She scanned the city's newspapers for visiting theatrical celebrities and wrote them invitations to lunch at the exchange. She said her biggest coup was wooing Katharine Hepburn to lunch about 30 years ago.

"I write to the performers at the Mechanic," she told a Sun reporter in 1992. "I tell them welcome to Baltimore and may your stay here be very pleasant."

Actress Colleen Dewhurst came to lunch one day and bought $900 worth of quilts. Comedian and television personality Peggy Cass made visits to Miss Willie, as she was known, during a run of The Octette Bridge Club, a 1985 play.

"She was here when I arrived, and that was 37 years ago," said Dorothea Day Wilson, the exchange's cook. "In so many ways, Miss Willie was all that was nice about this place. She never spoke much but was always so kind and pleasant."

Born in Baltimore, Miss Godwin attended public schools. She grew up near her father's grocery store on Poppleton Street. About 70 years ago, she joined the sales staff of John C. Minor's, a Charles Street lunchroom and fancy-foods store near the Woman's Exchange.

"She was a sales clerk and an assistant to Mr. Minor," said Paul Godwin of Baltimore, a nephew. "At Christmas, she made up the fancy fruit baskets."

Friends said she waited on customers during World War II Christmases and took orders for parcels to be sent overseas to servicemen and servicewomen.

"She always felt so sad for the parents and the children who weren't together because of the war," said Diane Coleman, a former director of the exchange and a friend.

Her colleagues also recalled Miss Godwin telling of her happy days working on Charles Street. After closing time, she and co-workers she described as "shop girls" would repair to Marconi's, the Saratoga Street restaurant, for a drink.

When Minor's closed in the 1960s, Miss Godwin applied for a job at the exchange because she felt the staff and customers "were such fine people." She remained until her retirement two years ago. She spent much of her time at the bakery counter, where she sold brownies and cupcakes. She also sold children's and infants' clothing and other handmade items.

For many years, she resided in Rodgers Forge with her mother, Lucia Godwin, who lived to be 106. Miss Godwin, who caught the No. 11 bus to work nearly all her working life, agreed to take a cab only when she was in her late 80s.

"She worked because she wanted to be at the exchange," Mr. Godwin said. "She just liked going to work, and once told me she enjoyed it so much she would pay them to work there."

Ms. Coleman added: "Miss Willie absolutely loved the exchange. It was her second family. She had a beautiful voice, and in the afternoon - if it was quiet - she sang songs and recited poetry she remembered from years ago."

Services will be private.

Miss Godwin also is survived by another nephew, John R. Godwin of Westminster.

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