This year, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House is pleased to recognize the 2022 Flag House Scholar Award runners-up. This year’s essay contest asked seniors to write a 350-word essay recognizing a woman who exemplifies the characteristics of entrepreneurship, courage, resourcefulness, and intelligence.
Student entries recognized both famous and nonfamous women who have had significant impacts on the students’ lives and in the fields of media, literature, science, cosmetics, and medicine. The below essays scored the highest of the 28 competitive essay submissions from 14 of Maryland’s 23 counties. If you haven’t already, check out the video of 2022 Scholar Award winner Carina Guo.
Amelia Clark | Damascus High School
Cultivator of gardens and exemplifier of worlds, Georgia O’Keefe painted the natural world as it needed to be seen, turning the tables against the dreary, reflective work that sprang up in the early 20th century. O’Keeffe rose from the dust of Wisconsin into the steely confines of New York City where she attended art school for a short period of time. Cold, looming buildings blocked out the wilderness, but the burgeoning energy and new ideas of the city impassioned her to create.
Largely passed over by her peers, O’Keeffe is best known for her towering flowers. Huge, exuberant flowers blossomed on the canvases, inciting exciting debates throughout the United States. Was it erotic? Religious? Her presence as an up-and-coming female artist in the 1920s meant that O’Keefe and her flowers would be scrutinized without mercy; the critics ignoring the dichotomy of female (and flora) in favor of pinpointing an unwavering definition on them both.
Nevertheless, she grew. She grew out of the city, moving away to New Mexico. She grew out of her flowers, leaving them for the critics and socialites to psychoanalyze and ponder. She grew into the wholeness that was dampened in New York, letting the land, weather, and flora and fauna combine with her magnifying creativity and became greater than the sum of its parts.
She painted beauty where others saw death. There was no evil in the sun-bleached skulls of cattle and coyote, and the hills that traced the horizon kept her company. Throughout the turmoil of the early 1900s, O’Keeffe observed and ignored the conventional beauties of America in preference of the desert because “it is vast and empty and untouchable – and knows no kindness with all its beauty.” (O’Keeffe)
The social restrictions on women were non-negotiables as other arts – the movies, radio, and most art – told us. Defiantly, she lived independently, painted independently, and rose to fame (however posthumously) independently. Reverence for the inanimate and useless reimagined what it meant to be a female artist in the 20th century and cemented her place in the list of artists that changed art.
Emerson Lehner | Hereford High School
The famous businesswoman and seamstress, Mary Pickersgill exemplified the traits of perseverance, creativity, and loyalty that my great-great-aunt Dorothy Bergner exhibited. Dorothy was born September 22, 1898, and died July 30, 1984. Although I never met her, my family has told stories of her peculiar yet inventive aura she exemplified when she was alive. She never married and never had any children, but instead dedicated her time and efforts to her research. She was an active cytogeneticist and researcher who specialized in plant life. Her career spanned many years and she worked at the same laboratory that many other pioneers in the field of biology would conduct research in. This laboratory was the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in upstate New York. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, this lab would harbor some of the greatest breakthroughs in science.
Dorothy’s involvement and research during this revolutionary time was such as an exciting and fascinating part of my family’s history that I had discovered. Her academic success was apparent as she attended Columbia University for her master’s and doctoral degrees in biology. For this time, there would have been a great deal of uncertainty and job security for women in the male-predominant field of biology. However, because of her determination and witty nature she was able to help pave the way for a new generation of female scientists who would bring a new perspective to the table. Mary Pickersgill was able to bring her perspective to the forefront through the women’s rights movement and she too faced similar backlash and uncertainty as did my great-great-aunt. Even though Dorothy has never been in textbooks and documentaries like many of the other scientists of her era, she still holds a place in history as a contributor to the field of genetics and modern science.
Brooke Smith | Damascus High School
For centuries, women of all races have been defying systemic barriers. In the same way that Mary Young Pickersgill took care of her family while simultaneously leading a female-owned business decades before the term “business woman” was socially acceptable, Maya Angelou was defying emotional and societal barriers during a time of significant racism and patriarchal restraints. Maya Angelou is another example of a strong, dedicated, and compassionate woman who was able to break through walls in order to benefit the common good.
Maya Angelou, an African American woman born in St. Louis Missouri in 1928, was an esteemed poet and activist, writing 36 books and heart wrenching poems that exposed sentiments common to the civil war era. From an early age, Angelou experienced sexual trauma and learned how to live with the pain, similar to the way Pickersgill had to move on after losing her three children and husband. Angelou found solace in the power of literature and was able to go on to create some of the most renowned pieces to date. She moved people through words of liberation and echoed the voices of other strong black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Mary Angelou used her voice and strong mind in Africa when she worked at the University of Ghana. She worked as a freelance writer, editor, and even joined an activist community while she was there. Her words, recited by amazing leaders like Nelson Mendela, have traveled through time, similar to the contributions that Mary Pickersgill made towards our country. Other influential figures have quoted Angelou, including Serena Williams and Tupac, proving that her message of perseverance against outstanding odds spread far and wide. She was even able to recite her poem “And Still I Rise” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.
This world needs women like Angelou and Pickersgill, trailblazers, to set standards for excellence and perseverance. In a time where women were less than, Pickersgill proved they were more. In a time where black women were suffocated from every corner of society, Angelou proved they rise “just like moons and like suns.”