Honoring the Women of the Flag House

Ruthella Mory Bibbins

Mrs. Ruthella Mory Bibbins (1865-1942), was a noted geologist and historian who wrote extensively on the history of Maryland and Baltimore. A native of Frederick County, she later lived in Baltimore City, graduating from Goucher College in 1897, then from Oxford a year later, receiving her Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1900. In 1903, she married Dr. Arthur B. Bibbins, and together they devoted time to civic causes in Baltimore, including the founding of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Association in 1927. Both Ruthella and Arthur Bibbins served as founding directors of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and purchased or secured the donation of many of the artifacts that remain in the Flag House’s possession today. The Flag House Association, founded by Ruthella and Arthur, gained non-profit status in 1931 and remains the steward organization that operates the museum and historic property for Baltimore City.

Mrs. Ruthella Mory Bibbins, 1934

Elizabeth Murray Sewell

Elizabeth Murray Sewell, (1890 – 1977), was the wife of the Flag House’s first curator Arthur Perry Sewell. Because Arthur had been blinded by a chemical attack during World War I, Elizabeth conducted all correspondence and Flag House operations alongside her husband and on his behalf. The couple resided in a third-floor apartment in the Flag House’s attic as late as 1940. Together Arthur and Elizabeth were responsible for the initial preservation of the Flag House, restoring it to its approximate 1813 appearance, and the expansion of the museum’s footprint to include the first museum and office building (1950). After Arthur’s sudden death in October of 1946, Elizabeth continued on as curator until April 1957. During her tenure as curator, Elizabeth secured the donations of significant artifacts, including many furnishings for the Flag House’s early period rooms and objects related to the life of Francis Scott Key. In September 1958, she donated bound copies of curator’s reports dating back to 1927 for the Flag House archive.


Mary Elizabeth Murray marriage to Arthur Perry Sewell, by Rev. J Monroe & Rev. Charles Asbury Smith at the War Memorial Building in Baltimore on Sept. 1, 1928.

Mary-Paulding Martin

Mary-Paulding Martin was Flag House director for 15 years from 1965 until 1980. Born in Virginia on February 8, 1912, she was a 1933 graduate of Sweet Briar College and English teacher at both Garrison Forest School and Notre Dame Preparatory School. Among her many talents as a gardener and neighborhood activist, she was also an avid writer, researching and publishing several pamphlets on the history of the Flag House. It was her work and advocacy as Director that gained the Flag House National Historic Landmark status on December 16, 1969. She was a 46-year resident of Bolton Hill and earned the nickname Mrs. Bolton Hill after being elected the first female president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association. In 1995, she published a book of poetry, Verses from My Marble Steps.

“I didn’t want to come here at all,” Mrs. Martin told The Sun in 1995. “But I fell in love with it, the buildings, the waterfront, the neighborhoods.”

Mary-Paulding Martin died in January 2007 at age 94.


Mrs. Mary-Paulding Martin during “A Short Walk Through History”
program at the Flag House, August 8, 1979.

Anne Homer Martin

Anne Homer Martin was an instrumental donor, volunteer, and member of the Flag House and Baltimore Weaver’s Guild. The Weaver’s Guild completed the 1963-1964 Star-Spangled Banner Flag that was exhibited in the Maryland Pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. She wove examples of the fabric on a loom constructed for this project in the Flag House and continued to give weaving demonstrations to school children in the attic into the late 1960s. Mrs. Martin is also the generous donor of the Prescott Bigelow Pewter Collection, part of the Flag House permanent collection since 1959.


Mrs. Anne Homer Martin sits at the custom loom surround by a flag display in the attic of the Flag House, about 1968.

This post originally appeared as individual posts for the Flag House’s Women’s History Month series in March 2019.

Hand-Painted Silk Fan

“…the fan is either a prude or a coquette, according to the nature of the person who bears it.” – Article from The Queen, 1864

This hand-painted silk and wood fan would have been considered the height of late Victorian fashion. For the Victorian woman, fans were a fashion accessory, of course, but with all things Victorian, they held a much deeper symbolism. Advice columns of the day instructed women to use the fan to indicated their inner character and virtue, giving them an active role in portraying themselves in society and in courtship. There were flutters of anger, modesty, merriment, and romance. Using the language of the fan was a delicate art and meant the difference between being viewed as a flirt or an appropriately modest and passive woman. An article from The Illustrated London News suggests that women use fans to “move the air and cool themselves but also to express their sentiments.” Fans were to be used as the physical and metaphysical extension of a woman’s delicate hand and genteel mind. 

The fan industry in Great Britain, where this fan was made, was also uniquely female. Fans entered into fashionable English society later than continental Europe, taking hold in the fashion industry in the earliest days of the eighteenth century. In 1709, the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers was established and would lead the production of fans and their exposition into the nineteenth century. The delicate task of fan making required a high level of skill to handle the high-end materials like ivory, tortoiseshell, silk, lace, mother of pearl, wood, and bone. Primarily the job of cutting the pieces that assembled a fan was reserved for men until 1859 when machinery replaced the hand-piecing jobs. Women, however, took over the role of designing and painting fans and became the featured exhibitionist during the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers three expositions in 1877, 1889, and 1890. Women took home the highest prizes for their fan designs. During the International Exhibition of 1871, Queen Victoria herself offered a £ 40 prize “for the best fan exhibited by a lady artist or artists.” 

Black silk taffeta fan with hand-painted with floral sprays English, c. 1880 – 1890 Trisler-Pentz Collection of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, FH1930.2.2a

1964 Orioles Home Opener

April 17, 1964, during the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener at Memorial Stadium against the New York Yankees, the Flag House loaned its 30′ x 42′ Star-Spangled Banner replica to be carried onto the field by 22 Marines while “Stars and Stripes Forever” played. The Orioles finished 3rd in the league that year with 97 wins and 65 losses.

Today, March 26, would have been the Orioles’ 2020 home opener against the Yankees. We can’t wait to get back to baseball.

You can view the entire Star-Spangled Banner Replica Project Collection online HERE.

Dr. Benjamin F. Young, July 1769- March 23, 1803

#OnThisDay – March 23, 1803, Dr. Benjamin Young, brother of Mary Pickersgill, dies at the age of 33. #DYK – Mary Pickersgill’s brother, Benjamin Young, was a physician trained by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence? Dr. Rush taught Benjamin Young in Philadelphia, where he completed his studies at age 19, taking on a position as a doctor in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, becoming one of the first doctors in the county.

To read letters from Dr. Benjamin Rush to Rebecca Young, mother of Mary Pickersgill and Dr. Benjamin Young, you may visit the Flag House’s Colonial Letters Collection on Digital Maryland’s Website https://collections.digitalmaryland.org/…/colle…/fhcl/search

“In life universally beloved – in death universally lamented. The suavity of his temper, the urbanity of his manners, the perfection of his professional skill, and the liberality of his professional assistance have insured to him (what few can aspire to) the lasting regret of all who knew him.” – Obituary of Benjamin Flower Young, Kennedy’s Gazette, 1803

Benjamin Young (1769 – 1803)
c. 1800
James Sharples (ca. 1751–1811)
Pastel on black paper
Collection of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

First Day Spring – Gray Straw Wedding Bonnet

Celebrating the #firstdayofspring wishing we could show off in this gray straw bonnet with matching ribbon, dot lace, and delicately colored flower container. Made by O’Neill Millinery and Fancy Goods in #baltimore Worn by the donor, Mrs. Betty Houck, on her wedding day to Dr. William Fletcher Pentz, April 1888. 

Dr. Pentz was a member of the Maryland Legislature from 1898 until 1901. The Pentz-Trisler families were among the first donors to the Flag House’s collection and had strong familial ties to the defenders of Baltimore during the War of 1812. 

Trisler-Pentz Collection of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, FH1962.5.2, gift of Mrs. William F. Pentz 

O’Neill, Millinery & Fancy Goods

Founded in 1882 by Thomas O’Neill, O’Neill’s Department Store began as a dry goods supplier at Charles and Lexington Streets. The store and owner were well known for their specialty wares, and Thomas O’Neill’s presence at the front door at 8:30 each morning outfitted in spectacles, striped trousers, black dress coat, and his distinguished red mustache. After the department store survived the Great Fire of 1904, O’Neill purchased the entire block on the east side of Charles Street to Franklin Street, opening several other buildings. Thomas O’Neill died in 1919, bequeathing the store to its employees. The store closed in 1954 and was demolished in 1961 as part of the Charles Center urban renewal project. 

National Anthem Day – March 3

March 3 is #nationalanthemday Although Francis Scott Key’s famous poem was popular in Baltimore almost immediately following the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, it wasn’t until 1931 that it was adopted as the national anthem of the United States. Read on for a brief history of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On September 13, 1814, British ships anchored a mile from Fort McHenry in support of soldiers advancing toward Baltimore from North Point. The 25-hour bombardment was unsuccessful, and on the dawn of September 14, Francis Scott Key, who had remained in British custody after negotiating the release of a prisoner of war, was poised to witness the Star-Spangled Banner flag being hoisted over the fort. Key finished his poem in a hotel after sailing into Baltimore after the battle. The poem, first titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” and later “The Star-Spangled Banner” is printed as a broadside and in newspapers, gaining quick popularity.

Shortly after the battle in 1814, Thomas Carr, a Baltimore music publisher, prints the first sheet music of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and offers it for sale at his store on Baltimore Street. Following a play at the Holliday Street Theatre on October 19, 1814, the first public performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is made by an actor named Mr. Harding.

During the Civil War, 1861-1865, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is performed with greater frequency, coinciding with increased civilian use of the national flag, whose stars symbolizing the states of the Union make a powerful allusion to the cause of reuniting the country.

In 1904, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini incorporated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a musical theme in his opera Madam Butterfly to introduce the central character of U.S. naval officer Lieutenant Pinkerton.

Eight years later, in 1912, the first bill seeking to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem is submitted to Congress, but it dies in committee. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is to be played on official occasions.

It is not until 1931 that a bill making the Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem of the United States is passed.