Say the name Elisabeth Gilman today and it is unlikely that anyone will show even a glimmer of response, other than "Elisabeth who?" A Broadmead resident has embarked on a path to change that and introduce Elisabeth to as wide an audience as possible.
A new biography by Ross Jones, "Elisbeth Gilman: Crusader for Justice" has just been published. It tells the story of a woman who was the centerpiece for social activism and reform in Baltimore and Maryland in the first half of the twentieth century. Elisabeth, youngest daughter of Daniel Coit Gilman, founding president of Johns Hopkins University, grew up in a well-to-do family and in the somewhat rarified air of academic life. At an early age, however, she became a social worker in Baltimore-- a "friendly visitor" as they were known in those days. She was able to see, first hand, the devastating effect on individuals and families caused by poverty, discrimination, lack of education and neglect.
Following volunteer service in Paris during World War I, where she ran a YMCA canteen for doughboys, she returned to Baltimore to become the best known and the most outspoken advocate for improving the lives of working class people the city had ever known.
When every hotel in Baltimore denied her a place to hold a large dinner party because a few African American friends would be there, she held the party at her home for more than 100 guests. When West Virginia coal miners were striking in 1922, she raised money for food and clothing to support them. When a "colored" school was in desperate need of repair she demanded the school board to fix it up or close it. When lynchings of African American men continued in Maryland into the 1930s, she went to Washington to press Congress create laws to ban the practice.
In the 1930 elections, she was a candidate for Governor, running on the Socialist Party ticket. In subsequent years she ran for Governor again, US Senator, Mayor of Baltimore, even Sheriff of the city. She never won, but she used her platform to urge the public to work harder to improve the lives of workers and their families. She strongly advocated for things like old age pensions, social security, a minimum wage, fair prices for public transportation, gas, electricity and water, things we take for granted today.
Elisabeth Gilman was a woman "ahead of her time." Mr. Jones' book is available locally at Greetings & Readings of Hunt Valley, Maryland, and may be ordered online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or many other retail channels.