HAVRE DE GRACE — Back in 1915, Elizabeth Hamilton Chew Forbes organized a rally for women’s suffrage in Havre de Grace’s Millard Tydings Memorial Park. On Saturday, over 100 people turned out for a ceremony unveiling a plaque honoring Forbes and proclaiming the park a stop on the ‘road to the 19th Amendment.’
Forbes grew up on a farm in Harford County and went on to organize local demonstrations for women’s suffrage, becoming vice president of the Harford County Just Government League. At Tydings Park, she organized a Prairie Schooner Women’s Suffrage Campaign stop, part of an effort to recruit support throughout the state to ramp up the pressure for reforms on Washington.
“While this marker only has the name of Elizabeth Forbes, she is representative of all of the Harford County women who fought to get the right to vote,” said Amy Rosenkrans, a volunteer with the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center and organizer of Saturday’s event. “So many Harford County women participated in the suffrage movement.”
Attendees gathered outside the Havre de Grace Opera House, many wearing white, a color traditionally signaling support for women’s suffrage. Others wore sashes and carried flowers or signs with pro-voting rights messages, including support for H.R.1, a sweeping piece of voting rights legislation which recently passed the U.S. House and faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Maria Darby, president of the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center’s board of directors, said she was thrilled with the turnout, noting the young folks and particularly young girls in the crowd.
“It’s so important for young people to understand on whose shoulders they stand,” she said. “They are our future.”
In addition to Havre de Grace families out enjoying the gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon, folks from across the state joined the demonstration — there was a delegation from Notre Dame of Maryland University, one of nation’s oldest women’s colleges, and at least a dozen members of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland Troop 846.
“We’re not just representing our troop,” Troop Leader Andrea Williams reminded the girls as they prepared to march in a parade down Union Ave to Tydings Park. “We’re representing the history of women in our state.”
The march set off a little after noon, escorted by Havre de Grace police down the mile or so route through the city. Rosenkrans led the procession, alongside Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin and many descendants of Elizabeth Forbes.
About halfway to the waterfront, they made a pit stop at the home of Mabel Hart to sing happy birthday — born in 1919, Hart was turning 102. A 1936 graduate of the Havre de Grace Colored High School, Hart went on to teach for four decades.
She noted the significance of younger people keeping the history of women’s suffrage alive.
“It’s amazing to see,” Hart said.
Speaking later at the ceremony at Tydings Park, Mayor Martin again wished Hart a happy birthday and reflected on what it meant to include her in the day’s events.
“When she was born, her mother couldn’t vote,” Martin said. “We are not talking ancient history here.”
Martin was one of two men to speak at the ceremony, and gave himself a good-natured ribbing, saying he relished his role as the least important person on the stage. The other was Steve Bodnar of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, an organization which seeks to help people celebrate local history and which sponsored the plaque in Tydings Park.
In Bodnar’s defense, he largely devoted his time to reading a letter from Executive Director Paula Miller, who explained that Pomeroy Foundation markers are a ‘gold standard,’ with vetting from historical experts. Havre de Grace’s latest marker is one of 10 in the state and 250 nationwide which make up National Votes for Women Trail.
“The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is so proud to help preserve the legacy of suffrage leader Elizabeth Forbes and all of her colleagues at the rally in 1915,” Bodnar read. “This marker will ensure that their contributions to the women’s suffrage movement are celebrated for generations to come.”
For Christine Valeriann, who was there with her newest rescue puppy, it was an honor to see the legacy of Elizabeth Forbes in Havre de Grace history get some attention.
Valeriann chairs the Women’s Equality Day Celebration across Maryland, and spoke to her personal frustrations finding that women’s names have been erased from history because records often refer to them only through the names of their husbands. She, too, was impressed by the turnout.
“Everyone here could be doing so many other things on such a fabulous spring day,” she said. “But here we are.”
The event closed out a week of celebrations in Havre de Grace, which also included lectures on women in politics and the women who were lighthouse keepers, living history portrayals of Harriet Tubman and Verda Freeman, and a screening of the movie “Iron Jawed Angels.”
Rosencrans was busy, answering to everyone as she hustled back and forth ensuring the event went off without a hitch. She was the keynote speaker at a brief rally at Tydings Park, and she stood alongside Forbes’ descendants as they unveiled the plaque.