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
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
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.

Stars, Stripes and the Unsung Woman Who Sewed Them in Baltimore

Mary Young Pickersgill’s legacy lives on in the house where she made the national anthem-inspiring Star-Spangled Banner

July 1, 2018
This article appeared on the Houzz website on Sunday, July 1, 2018

June 2018 News from the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Join the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and the Baltimore Office of Immigration for a very special Flag Day program and Naturalization Ceremony.

The Flag House will be open to the public for FREE from 10 AM – 4 PM.
Tours of the historic house will pause during the ceremony from 12 PM to 1 PM.

At 1 PM join us in the Flag House Theater for historian Robert Dudley’s popular talk, “Sam Smith: When Destiny Calls!”




Outdoor Festival
Sunday, June 24th, 12 pm to 4 pm

Celebrate Baltimore’s oldest neighborhood with the third annual Jonestown festival. Our community’s cultural institutions and businesses come together once again to celebrate our shared heritage with an afternoon of magic and delightful experiences, from stilt-walkers to arts-and-crafts,
face painters to animal encounters.

At 1:00 pm behold a daring live escape by the one and only
Dai Andrews – performed while dangling from a crane!

This magical afternoon will feature the National Aquarium, the Star Spangled Banner Flag House, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, Port Discovery and many more! And don’t forget about the door prizes – the festival is free but you’ll have to register for your chance to win.

Entertainment includes:

Big Whimsy Stilt Walkers: Look a Giant in the eye, give a high five and have your picture taken with one of the “higher-ups” at the show. Nina and Joffrey delight and amuse as they stroll the grounds. With a magic balloon pouch, they can make you a sculpture, a hat, or even a dog out of thin air!

Illya Interactive Circus: a hands-on experience! Hoop, Juggle, Tumble, Spin, and Cavort with Illya and her circus toys. Face painting will be available in between circus play times!

Dai Andrews: a Baltimore-based entertainer, Dai has been practicing magic since the age of five. He has traveled the world seeking hidden knowledge and forgotten arts, studying with yogis and martial artists, magicians, and fakirs to learn and perfect their arts in order to bring his audience a
performance of strange feats and unusual abilities.

Looking for more info? Check out our Festival FAQs!

BMI Farmers’ Market
Stop by the Flag House’s activity table on
Saturday, June 30 for patriotic crafts.

The BMI Farmers’ Market Runs
Saturdays, May 19-November 24, 2018*
9:00am to 1:00pm

Join us on Saturday, May 19 as we kick off our 10th annual market season!

The BMI Farmers’ Market is a great way to spend your Saturday morning. Purchase fresh produce, local meat and eggs, oven-fresh bread and sweets, bright flowers, tasty ready-to-eat treats, artisan items, and more. Family-friendly activities offered throughout the season, as well as a changing schedule of live music and community-interest vendors. The market offers easy access to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as plenty of free on-site parking. Picnic tables are available, inviting visitors to relax by the harbor and visit with friends and neighbors.

*The market will not be held on October 20, during the Baltimore Running Festival. Check out the 2018 vendors here.

Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and museums across America.  Each summer since 2010, Blue Star Museums have offered free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. See the map below or select from the list of states for museums that are participants of Blue Star Museums in 2018.

  • Admission is free to active duty military and their families from                                                  Saturday, May 26 – Saturday, September 1
  • The Flag House is one of more than 2,000 participating organizations.
  • Find a full list here: 2018 Blue Star Museums


Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Receives Core Documents Verification from the American Alliance of Museums

Baltimore, Maryland November 7, 2017 – The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House has passed the American Alliance of Museums’ Core Documents Verification, and important milestone in its ongoing efforts to demonstrate excellence and meet standards and best practices.

Earning Core Documents Verification means the national professional organization for the museum industry has verified – through a thorough expert review- that the museum has an educational mission; and ethics, planning, emergency, and collections stewardship policies in place that reflect standard practices of professional museums. These elements were evaluated because they are deemed essential for every institution that identifies itself as a professional member of the museum field.

Of the nation’s 35,000 plus museums about 1,100 have passed the Core Documents Verification. The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House is one of 25 museums in Maryland to have done so.

One reason we undertook this outside review was to show our public that the museum has in place the policies and plans that are essential to good museum management and which provide our staff and governing authority the structure, ethical grounding, and accountability needed to make informed and consistent decisions for the good our public and in support of our mission and sustainability.

“We couldn’t be more excited to receive Core Documents Verification. This is one of many major milestones we’ve achieved in the past three years as we pursue American Alliance of Museums accreditation and validates the tremendous effort put in by staff and the governing body,” said Amanda Shores Davis, Executive Director.  “I hope our success can be a model for other small museums of what can be accomplished when resources seem limited but, you remain dedicated to your mission and strategic plan.”

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. With more than 15,000 individual, 3,000 institutional, and 300 corporate members, the Alliance is dedicated to ensuring that museums remain a vital part of the American landscape, connecting people with the greatest achievements of the human experience, past, present, and future. For more information, visit www.aam-us.org.