This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for more than 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
“Maryland had several women leaders who had an impact on issues that have affected women and the country,” comments Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin, age 84, President and CEO of the Maryland Museum of Women’s History.
“We believe the stories and experiences and accomplishments of women are valuable and deserve public recognition and understanding. We seek to do that and to further promote research and studies, conferences and presentations about women and their issues.”
The museum was established in 2018 by Mary to share the stories, experiences, and accomplishments of women. Mary has served as Queen Anne’s County’s historian for several years, having completed nearly 20 years of research on women in the state.
Originally, the museum was to be located at the historic Bloomfield Manor, a property owned by Queen Anne’s County. According to Mary, “disagreements with the county over accepting the easements required for the property as a result of accepting state funds for construction” led the organization to search for a new location for its museum. The museum’s foundation was named the Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory Foundation after Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory who once owned Bloomfield Manor. While creating an online presentation about her, the board realized that Mary Emory had favored slavery and the nonprofit decided to distance itself from Emory and rename its foundation as well.
After William Turpin died in 2018, a property called “Locust Hill” in Centreville was sold and the new owners approached Mary Revell Goodwin about leasing their historic house for the Maryland Museum of Women’s History. It was agreed and in 2020 the organization moved into the house.
“The main house was built in the late 1770s and had been in the Turpin family since 1812. Records indicate that in 1792 jury trials were held in the living room of the house while the Queen Anne’s County Courthouse was being built. The living room and dining room will eventually be used for our exhibitions. Down the road, we also hope to add a wing to expand the exhibition area,” Mary comments.
She explains that the house requires fewer construction projects than Bloomfield Manor did. A $25,000 grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas will help the museum address structural issues with the house’s main chimney. Other projects include installing an ADA-compliant restroom in the property’s smokehouse and adding an ADA wheelchair lift platform to help with navigating the house’s exterior stairs. A grant will also enable the slave quarters on the property to be restored.
“When you take on an old house, the first time you peel back something, you find something else,” Mary adds.
Mary is no stranger to adversity. As a young woman, she contracted polio. When she was in fourth grade, she decided to participate in a contest to design a flag for UNICEF. Although she missed the deadline for the contest, she still sent her entry directly to President Harry Truman, hoping he would find a place for it in D.C. She got a personal letter back from the president encouraging her. She recalls, “I remember thinking then that I would never stop believing in myself.”
Years later, she discovered her flag and letter were in the Truman Library. After college, following one of her many surgeries related to polio, Mary approached her recovery with vigor determined to regain her strength by taking up swimming. She set some lofty personal goals for herself – to swim several of the great bodies of water around the world. Among the records she set in the years following included being the second American woman to swim the Straits of Gibraltar (1962); being the first woman and first American to swim the length of the Sea of Galilee (1964) in 9 hours 39 minutes 10 seconds; being the first woman to complete a double-crossing of the Straits of Messina (with the U.S. Navy SEAL team), and swimming from Malibu to Santa Monica.
Afterward, Mary became a writer and worked with Jacques Cousteau in London on several projects in Europe. She even designed a trial bed for underwater divers to use to rest while diving. During the trial, she spent 19 hours underwater. The Navy later heard about her environmental work with sharks on the Caribbean island of Mustique and hired her to work at the Pentagon in its Environmental and Conservation Office. She recalls a special project with the Navy during these years where she got to survey the battleship Missouri after WWII while it was docked in Bremerton, Washington. The experience further solidified her love of history.
During these 13 years, she developed further issues related to her legs and decided to become a runner to strengthen them, participating in several ultra-distance runs. Among her long-distance runs were running the C&O Canal and running from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Lake Mead.
“My support system for running was the Pentagon committee. Women were not doing such big runs at that time. My vacation one year was to go to Athens and actually run the original distance of the original marathon. At that point, running replaced my years of record hunting swimming,” she recalls.
At age 48, she decided to run long distances across Japan, with the Chrysler Corporation as her sponsor. Her last big challenges were running across the Himalayas and then running in India with her German Shorthaired Pointer dog.
Mary then returned to Centreville where while restoring an historic house, the house burned down in the process. While she was doing historical research in Queen Anne’s County, she got the idea to create the Maryland Museum of Women’s History.
She quips, “A friend said I wanted to tell women’s history because I had made history as a woman. But really, I wanted to create this museum to challenge myself and to challenge other people by telling the stories of great Maryland women. We want to not only take on the women who are named for what they have done, but the issues they engaged in to make the changes – the actions they took to find a way to influence public policy while at the same time taking their place as homemakers and community activists,” she adds. “I want girls and women to know there is as much for them to follow in one’s footsteps if you want to make changes in what women can do and accomplish in life.”
For further information or to donate to the Maryland Museum of Women’s History, contact Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin at email@example.com or call 410-725-6782.