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Title: Women with lasting impact

By Fronda Cohen, Baltimore County Office of Communications

To honor Women’s History Month, highlights of some extraordinary Baltimore County women: The Rosies, Henrietta Lacks, Elisabeth C.G. Packard and Rosa Ponselle.

The Rosies

During World War II, tens of thousands of women did their part for the war effort by working in factories. At the Glenn L. Martin plant in Middle River, women built military aircraft, doing jobs that in the 1940s were considered “men’s work.” They were called Rosies from a popular song of the day -- She’s making history, working for victory, Rosie the Riveter! At the height of the war years, women comprised about one third of the 53,000 workers at Martin’s Middle River plant. Rosies proved to themselves and to the world that women could do the same jobs as men. Their “we can do it’ spirit broke barriers between traditional men’s and women’s work, launching new opportunities for generations of women.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks and her family moved to Turner Station in 1941 when her husband got a job at the Bethlehem Steel mill in Dundalk. They lived a working class life until Mrs. Lacks fell ill and went to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Without her knowledge, samples were taken from the cervical tumor that caused her untimely death. Researchers discovered that her cells had an unusual property: they stayed alive and replicated outside the body, allowing researchers to conduct experiments in ways not possible with cells that only lived a day or two. These so-called “HeLa” cells, named for the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last name, are today used by scientists around the world to develop drugs to combat cancer, polio, Parkinson’s disease, herpes, and leukemia and aid other research. Henrietta Lacks’ story has been vital in setting higher bioethical research standards. All patients at research based hospitals must now give consent before their cells can be used for medical research. 

Elisabeth C.G. Packard

Elisabeth C.G. Packard was an internationally renowned art conservator who literally wrote the standards for her profession. An original staff member of what is now the Walters Art Museum, Packard helped classify the tens of thousands of objects donated by the Walters family that became the core of the museum’s world-renowned collection. At a time when using x-rays revolutionized art conservation, she applied both art and science to her profession, looking beneath the surface of artworks to restore and preserve them. A longtime resident and steward of Historic Lutherville, Elisabeth Packard was a trainer and mentor to a generation of art conservators.

Rosa Ponselle

Although her career started in vaudeville, Rosa Ponselle’s mark was made on the grand opera stages of the world. She was the first American-born performer to gain status as a world class opera singer. Her 1918 debut at the Metropolitan Opera opened that stage to American singers at a time when European talent dominated the opera world. Born in Italy, Rosa Ponselle lived in Maryland for more than 50 years, building her Villa Pace estate in Greenspring Valley, nurturing opera as a founder of the Lyric Opera and Baltimore Civic Opera, and serving as mentor to young singers who went on to great careers of their own. 

The Baltimore County Commission on Women works to educate and advocate for the needs of women. Visit the Commission online for more information on their initiatives and to learn about some of the contemporary women making significant contributions in their Baltimore County communities.

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