“A History of the Maryland Historical Society, 1844–2000,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 101 (2006).
The thousands of Marylanders who had served in the army and navy on both sides made their way home from the war to a state far different from the one they had left. Slavery had ended in Maryland on November 1, 1864, per the new state constitution, yet Eastern Shore planters perpetuated a system of involuntary labor for decades by indenturing black children. The new constitution also stipulated that Marylanders who had given “aid or comfort” to the enemy could not hold office. The state’s Democrats soon called for another convention and regained control of state politics in 1867.
Those members of the Maryland Historical Society who survived the conflict returned to the business of history much diminished in number and mourning the death of their first and only president, John Spear Smith, who had been unanimously elected to the chair each year of the society’s twenty-two-year life.
The job at hand, Mayer told the members, was to gather as quickly as possible all of the surviving documents of the war—pamphlets, handbills, broadsides, narratives, memoirs, complaints, controversies, newspapers, biographies, and histories. These “should be gathered, classified, bound, indexed, and placed in a separate department of our library,” for they constituted “the first outlines of history divulging its secrets—undisguised, they are the expression of living impulses of the hour, reliable, because they are warm from the eager and striving brain.”
Despite Mayer’s plans, some of which indeed materialized, old loyalties remained and directed the group’s presentation of history. The Union may have won the war, but antebellum southern, aristocratic influence enhanced by Confederate nostalgia permeated the very fabric of the organization for decades and gave it new life. A telling indicator was the establishment of a “Confederate Room,” stuffed with memorabilia of what was increasingly referred to as the “Lost Cause.” Confederate veterans Andrew C. Trippe served on the Committee on Addressses and Entertainments, McHenry Howard oversaw membership, and Bradley T. Johnson worked with publications. The society would not open a “Union Room” for almost a century, until the nation was in the midst of celebrating the war’s centennial.
Captioned photo: Confederate veteran McHenry Howard oversaw membership. The society’s officers approved all membership applications, well into the twentieth century. (Maryland Historical Society.)
The society survived the Great Depression, albeit with abbreviated offerings to members and friends. They opened their doors to the public for fewer hours each day in an effort to provide maximum service with minimal staff and to save on operating costs. Among the limited number of events, in the spring of 1938 the president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy presented the society with two engravings, one of General Robert E. Lee, the other of Jefferson Davis, “to be placed in the Confederate Room,” a perpetuation of the leadership’s southern heritage and identity that continued well into the middle years of the twentieth century. Winners of the UDC’s historical essay contest received copies of the engravings. This same year, Louis H. Dielman retired as editor of the Maryland Historical Magazine after twenty-eight years at its helm. Committee on Publications member Jacob Hall Pleasants wrote that in the face of shrinking appropriations for publications, Deilman had “in one way or another, with a sort of editorial wizard’s wand, been able year after year to fill its pages with papers of interest and value.”
The Thomas and Hugg building, a Meyers and Ayers design completed in 1968, added handsomely to the society’s holdings with “an exhibition area, an auditorium with audio-visual equipment, work rooms, storage space, and—to supplement the present Confederate Room—a Civil War Union Room,” courtesy of Ernest A. Howard, Historical Society of Cecil County. Ninety-five years after setting up its Confederate shrine and in the midst of the Civil War centennial festivities, the new exhibit room stood as “an admirable complement to [its] longmaintained” counterpart. In 1981 the society added the France-Merrick wing, “a tribute to the Trustees of the Jacob and Annita France Foundation and Robert G. Merrick.”
Membership dropped in 1932, from 1,221 in January to 1,116 in December, a “net decrease of 105 members in all classes.” Reports from all committees reflected the impact of the crash, yet at the annual meeting the Council reported that all in all they had fared well:
As with every report of Board ofDirectors to Stockholders Meetings, in these parlous times, so that ofyour council is regretful in retrospect, enduring in the present and hopeful for the future. While invested of capital but one security appears to have suffered serious and permanent loss the Society’s income from that source is materially reduced, as it also is by reduction of rental rooms by the State, by inability of members to meet their accrued dues, and by resignation of members whose impaired incomes constrain them to discontinue participation in the maintenance ofthe Society and to suffer the consequent deprivation of its enjoyment. . , . [they] have uniformly expressed sincere regret and usually the hope of return when their financial skies shall have become less overcast.
“A Quarter Century of Growth at the Maryland Historical Society”, Harold R. Manakee, p. 56-92, Maryland Historical Magazine
Another important contribution of 1962 was that of Mr. Ernest A. Howard, historian of the Cecil County Historical Society, in the amount of $10,000 to establish in the Thomas and Hugg Memorial Building a Civil War Union Room. The gift will provide an admirable complement to the long-maintained Confederate Room.