Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Receives Highest National Recognition Awarded Accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums

BALTIMORE, Maryland (March 20, 2019) – The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House has achieved accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition afforded the nation’s museums. Accreditation signifies excellence to the museum community, to governments, funders, outside agencies, and to the museum-going public.

Alliance Accreditation brings national recognition to a museum for its commitment to excellence, accountability, high professional standards and continued institutional improvement. Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 45 years, the Alliance’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability. It strengthens the museum profession by promoting practices that enable leaders to make informed decisions, allocate resources wisely, and remain financially and ethically accountable in order to provide the best possible service to the public.

“On behalf of the Flag House and its Governing Authority we would like to thank the American Alliance of Museums for their continued dedication to core standards of museum excellence,” said Executive Director Amanda Shores Davis. “In hindsight, when I came on as a freshman director in 2014, with a very green board, accreditation as a long-term goal was ambitious and maybe a little crazy, but I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to successfully rise to the challenge. Accreditation was the end goal, but the process to get here is what will allow the Flag House to continue its trajectory toward continued excellence, accessibility, and equitability. The Flag House is a better museum with a clearer sense of purpose for the future.”

Of the nation’s estimated 33,000 museums, over 1070 are currently accredited. The Flag House is one of only 23 museums accredited in Maryland and only 4 museums accredited in Baltimore

Accreditation is a very rigorous but highly rewarding process that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, and then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. The Alliance’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, considers the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.

“Accredited museums are a community of institutions that have chosen to hold themselves publicly accountable to excellence,” said Laura L. Lott, Alliance president and CEO. “Accreditation is clearly a significant achievement, of which both the institutions and the communities they serve can be extremely proud.”

About the American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. For more information, visit www.aam-us.org.

Women of the Flag House – Grace Wisher

#Grace Wisher was a free African American girl who was indentured to Mary Pickersgill for six years to learn house work and plain sewing. Grace, at age 13, was the same age as Mary’s daughter Caroline Pickersgill. During the summer of 1813, Grace would have been three years into her indenture and would certainly have been expected to take part in household work and business of flag making, including being present and active in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner.

This summer, artist Grandmother Edna Lawrence crafted a quilt dedicated to Grace that received recognition from Mayor Catherine Pugh. This quilt along with 10 other examples of Grandmother Edna’s work remain on view in the Flag House’s temporary exhibit.

Women of the Flag House – Hannah Young Wells Fearson

Hannah Young Wells Fearson, older sister of Mary Young Pickersgill, was born August 2, 1767, in Philadelphia to William and Rebecca Young. In 1783, Hannah marries shipbuilder George Wells, and the couple relocates to Baltimore in 1784 where George has inherited house and building plots from his father. Five years after their marriage, George Wells dies. Having poorly managed and invested his inheritance, he leaves Hannah deeply in debt, a hardship she would have to deal with for twenty years thereafter. Unlike her mother and sister, Hannah chooses to remarry and does not enter into the flag making trade. On May 28, 1791, Hannah marries Jesse Fearson a Revolutionary War sea captain and commander of the Buccaneer, a privateer ship with 12 crew and 18 guns. By September of 1807, the Young/Pickersgill flag making business in Baltimore was underway and Hannah and her husband Jesse move to Granby Street, one block east of the Flag House. Like her sister, Hannah becomes involved with the Impartial Female Humane Society. In 1828, when Mary is named as president of the Society, Hannah appears in meeting minutes as part of a committee to “make the next inquiries into the affairs of the Society.” She is also listed as heading a committee on March 11, 1829, that is to call a Mr. Norris to “demand the papers and any articles he may hold belonging to said society.” Hannah continues to appear in Impartial Female Humane Society minutes until about 1848. On March 7, 1853, Hannah Young Wells Fearson dies at age 86 in Baltimore.

Hannah Young Wells Fearson (in plaid) pictured with sister Mary Young Pickersgill (in black), about 1840.

Flag House Joins Museums for All Initiative

The Flag House is excited to be the newest Baltimore museum to participate in the Institute of Museum and Library Services Museums for All initiative.

Through Museums for All, those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can visit the Flag House and more than 300 museums throughout the United States for free or reduced admission simply by presenting their EBT card. Use the link to find a participating museum near you!

About Museums for All

Through Museums for All, those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free or reduced admission to more than 300 museums throughout the United States simply by presenting their SNAP EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer) card. Find a participating museum near you or browse our full list of participating museums.

Museums for All is a national, branded access program that encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. It is open to participation by any type of museum — including art, history, natural history/anthropology, and general museums, children’s museums, science centers, planetariums, nature centers, historic houses/sites, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arboretums.

The cost of museum admission can be a barrier for many low-income families. Participating museums provide reduced admission, ranging from free to $3.00, to visitors presenting their EBT card. This reduced rate is available during all normal operating hours to up to four individuals per EBT card. With a year-round open door policy, Museums for All invites low-income visitors to feel welcome at cultural institutions.

Since the launch of the initiative in 2014/2015, Museums for All has served more than 1.5 million visitors nationwide at more than 300 museums of all varieties, representing 45+ states, districts, and territories. Museums for All is the only nationally coordinated financial accessibility program in the museum field, providing an easy-to-implement structure and the ability for participating museums to customize their implementation.

Museums for All is an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency based in Washington, DC. The initiative is administered by the Association of Children’s Museums through a cooperative agreement with IMLS.

Women of the Flag House – 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.


1. 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.

L-R – Elizabeth M. Sewell, Ms. Charlotte Warfield, Mr. Paul L. Holland, Mr. F. Marshall Weller, Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro

Women of the Flag House – 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.


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

“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.

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. #WomensHistoryMonth #WomenoftheFlagHouse

Mrs. Ruthella Mory Bibbins, 1934

March 3 – National Anthem Day

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 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 story 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 during the Civil War 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 incorporates “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 signs an executive order that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is to be played at official occasions. 

It is not until 1931, that a bill making the Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem of the United States of America is adopted by both houses of Congress and is signed into law on March 3rd. 

Edward Percy Moran (1862-1935), American
By Dawn’s Early Light, 1912
Oil on canvas
MU1995LOANBCL
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Baltimore City Life Museum Collection

Edward Percy Moran (1862-1935), American
By Dawn's Early Light, 1912
Oil on canvas
MU1995LOANBCL
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Baltimore City Life Museum Collection

Happy 243rd Birthday to Mary Young Pickersgill, 1776-1857

On February 12, 1776, Mary Young, Polly as she would be known to family, was born to William and Rebecca Young in Philadelphia at a pivotal time for the family and nation. Two years later in 1778, the death of William would be the catalyst for what became a successful military supply and flag making business for Rebecca throughout the American Revolution. In 1805, Mary faced the same circumstance her mother did nearly three decades earlier when her husband, John Pickersgill dies suddenly while in London. After the loss of her husband Mary moves from Philadelphia to Baltimore to be closer to her siblings and to share the little house at the corner of Queen (now Pratt Street) and Albemarle Streets with Rebecca. Using Rebecca’s Philadelphia business as a model, the women saturate the Baltimore market with flag making advertisements, as many as ten over two months. Their skill and reputation for quality work resulted in the Mary receiving the commission for the 30’ x 42’ Star-Spangled Banner in 1813. The last known receipt for a flag made by Mary Pickersgill dates to 1815 and the flag making business seems to have been shuttered when Mary’s daughter Caroline Pickersgill marries iron merchant John Purdy in 1817.

Mary had experienced the hardship that the death of the male head of household could inflict upon a family, especially for the mother and wife of the late 18th century and early 19th century. Around 1818, she began to devote her time to supporting Baltimore’s widows and orphans through her involvement with the Impartial Female Humane Society and would dedicate the remainder of her life to the organization. Founded around 1801 and incorporated in 1811, the Society was established for the purpose of employing and providing relief to widows and educating orphans. In 1828, Mary is elected president of the Female Humane Society and organizes successful campaigns to raise the wages of Baltimore’s seamstresses and fund the construction of an aged women’s asylum opened on October 28, 1851. The Aged Women’s Home and later male facility stood at Lexington and Franklin Square in West Baltimore until the mid-20th century when the facilities relocated to Baltimore County. The Pickersgill Retirement Community still bears Mary’s name as a nod to her legacy of work benefitting Baltimore’s destitute widows and elderly women.

On October 4, 1857, Mary Young Pickersgill dies at age 81. A wake is held in the front parlor of the historic Flag House and she is later interred at Loudon Park Cemetery. The Annual Report of the Impartial Female Humane Society provides an unnamed obituary for one of its “oldest and most valuable managers,” likely Mary Pickersgill. The same indicates she was a founder of the Society, and that “by her wisdom and untiring zeal, sustained its nearly expiring efforts.”

New Digital Collection from the Flag House Coming Soon!

The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House is partnering with Digital Maryland to digitize a large collection of family letters and household ledgers from the Pannell family of Baltimore and Harford County. The collection will be available for online viewing in late fall 2018.

Born in Baltimore on 21 May 1784, James Pannell was the first president of the Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Harford County where he settled with his wife Susannah around 1813. Pannell was well educated and traveled extensively as this letter, written during a trip throughout Virginia, confirms. He was a gentleman farmer and member of the Uniform Volunteers Company, Fifth Regiment, in the Maryland Militia (Baltimore Independent Blues) serving in Baltimore during the War of 1812. Click the photo to read a full transcription of this letter from James to his wife Susannah dated August 6, 1812.