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Mary E. W. Risteau collection

Identifier: MS 2456


This collection consists of the personal and political papers of Mary E. W. Risteau (1890-1978), the first woman elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, 1921, and the State Senate, 1935.


  • 1786-1978
  • Majority of material found in 1900-1955


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

Mary Eliza Watters Risteau, daughter of William McGlocken and Mary Elizabeth (Amoss) Risteau, was born in Towson on April 24, 1890. She graduated from Towson High School in 1907 and completed a special advanced course of study in Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University in 1917. In 1938, Risteau received her L.L.B. Degree from the University of Baltimore.

Risteau began a teaching career (1908-1917) upon her graduation from high school and taught at both Parkville Elementary and Gilford Elementary Schools. In 1917, she assumed management of a farm located on the family estate near Jarrettsville, Harford County, Maryland.

In 1921, Risteau became the first woman elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and served in the 1922, 1924, 1931, and 1933 sessions. She served on the Committee on Education, Committee on Agriculture, Library Committee, and the Chesapeake Bay and Its Tributaries Committee. She was instrumental in the passage of the Administration Bill granting women the right to serve in high public offices and the passage of the Cooperative Association Law. Her interest in education led to her support of school bond issues, the Equalization Fund Program Act, and the establishment of the State Teachers College at Salisbury. She fought against the Prohibition Bill and the Race Track Bill on the grounds that morals cannot be controlled by the legislature. In 1922, Governor Albert Rithchie appointed Risteau to the State Board of Education, the first woman to hold the position. She was re-appointed in 1924 and served 16 years up through 1938 without pay.

Her work in the House of Delegates led to her election to the State Senate in 1935. Once again she was the first woman to occupy the position. She served from 1935-1937 and held memberships on the Federal Relations Committee, the Temperance Committee, and the Finance Committee. Furthermore, she was the Chairman for the Committee of Agriculture and Labor, and the Vice-Chairman for the Education Committee. She sponsored bills to further women's rights and to organize a conservation of soil resources among other things.

In 1938, Risteau was appointed by the judges of the Third Judicial Circuit as clerk of the Circuit Court for Harford County. She filled that office for a year and in 1939, Governor Herbert O'Connor appointed her Administrator of Loans.

In 1951 she was elected to the House of Delegates for the fourth time in her life. Serving a term of four years, Risteau was a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the Committee on Education, and the Agricultural Committee.

Throughout her life, Mary E. W. Risteau was involved in a number of political and social organizations which furthered the public interest. A listing of her activities would include membership on the Maryland Tercentenary Committee, the National and the Maryland Orders of Women Legislators, the Maryland Women's Legislative Group, and the Harford County Federation of Rural Women's Clubs among others.

Mary E. W. Risteau died on July 24, 1978 at the age of 88.


8.8 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Language of Materials



Boxes 1 and 2 consist of correspondence, papers, and genealogical notes of the Risteau and Watters families, primarily of Mary Eliza Amoss Risteau (1850-1935), J. Howard Watters (1823-1906), and Martha Watters (d.1881). The correspondence of Mary Eliza Amoss Risteau contain over 75 letters from her daughter Mary E. W. Risteau, many written when the latter took a trip West in 1915.

Box 3 contains the personal correspondence of Mary E. W. Risteau. Arranged by date (1907-1978), the bulk of these letters fall within four main subject categories: congratulatory messages concerning her political victories; sympathy cards and letters in respect to her mother's death; correspondence with several male friends serving in World War I and World War II; and simply letters from friends and relatives written over the years.

Boxes 4 and 5 are family account books and receipts of James Amoss, J. Howard Watters, and the Mary E. W. Risteau family. In addition, there is an account book of money raised by Miss Risteau's pupils for a portrait of Cecilius Calvert to be presented to the State House (1917).

Box 6 contains desk diaries and appointment books (1912-1950) kept by Mary E. W. Risteau. Some of the volumes are more detailed while others simply record the date and time of appointments.

Boxes 7 through 9 contain the law school notes of Mary E. W. Risteau, taken when she attended the University of Baltimore Law School (1935-1938). The material is arranged alphabetically by the title of the course.

Boxes 10 through 12 are scrapbooks dating from 1907-1939. The majority are loosely arranged with various clippings left unattached in the back of the books.

Boxes 13 through 16 comprise the political correspondence (1909-1978) of Mary E. W. Risteau. These include incoming letters as well as a small number of copies of outgoing correspondence. The bulk of the letters fall within the period of 1921-1955 when she served in either the Maryland House of Delegates or the State Senate, as well as numerous commissions and boards. Many of the letters were written by individual constituents or interest groups (i.e. businesses, labor organizations, etc.) requesting that she support or oppose particular bills.

Boxes 17 through 19 are political papers divided and arranged by series descriptions, i.e. bills, minutes, reports, speeches, etc.

Box 20 contains the papers of the Jarrettsville Woman's Club, of which Mary E. W. Risteau was a member.

Box 21 contains simply miscellaneous papers whose identity or relation to other papers is unknown. Undoubtedly, some of the papers in Box 21 are speaking notes used when addressing the floor in the legislative sessions or when giving speeches for various organizations.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Fred I. Bule in June 1979.

Separated Materials

All photographs, maps, and printed ephemera, i.e. greeting cards, invitations, programs, etc. have been transferred to the Prints and Photographs Division and catalogued under "Risteau Collection, Graphics 44."

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the personal and political papers of Mary E. W. Risteau, the first woman elected to the Maryland House of Delegates (1921) and the State Senate (1935). The papers span the years 1786-1978 with the majority falling between 1900-1955. The documents not only reflect the active political career of Risteau but provide information on her own personal life and that of her family as well. The collection can roughly be separated into personal and political categories with the former represented in the first twelve boxes and the latter in the next nine.

Guide to the Mary E. W. Risteau collection
Under Revision
Janice E. Ruth
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Revision Statements

  • 2020-02-12: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Sandra Glascock

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States