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Women of Charm City

Get to know the pioneering women shaping Baltimore's history, fashion, cuisine, art scene and more.

earless. Entrepreneurial. Creative. Revolutionary. Compassionate. These are just a few words that describe the past and present women of Baltimore, who have left indelible marks on the city’s history, economy, culinary scene and artistic culture. Meet these changemakers and discover must-visit shops, restaurants and museums in our comprehensive Women of Charm City Guide.

Baltimore's Female Pioneers

From suffragettes and politicians to writers and artists, Baltimore has been the birthplace and home to many trailblazing women.

Mary Pickersgill was already a successful entrepreneur when she was commissioned to sew a garrison flag for Fort McHenry in 1813. Just a year later, following the Battle of Baltimore in which the United States withstood 25 hours of British bombardment, the high-flying flag over the fort inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Mary Pickersgill spent her later years as a prominent humanitarian in Baltimore working to provide resources to poor families and aging women. You can visit the home where she lived and made the flag on Pratt Street near the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore women were at the forefront of the fight for voting rights in the early twentieth century. Susan B. Anthony, though not from Charm City, gave her last speech here at The Lyric Theater during the Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1906. Baltimore-born Lucy Branham, the daughter of a suffragist and student at Johns Hopkins, continued Anthony’s fight ten years later when she boldly set a copy of a Woodrow Wilson speech on fire to protest his lack of movement on the 19th Amendment. Also making a statement was Gladys Grenier, a young professional golfer and suffragist from Baltimore whose own parents denounced her in The Sun after she was arrested at a protest.

Mural of Billie Holiday singing into a microphone with the Baltimore skyline under her

This vibrant mural of Billie Holiday by Bridget Cimino adorns a wall on the 200 block of South Durham Street where the jazz singer grew up.

The early twentieth century also saw the rise of revolutionary female artists and musicians. Jazz performer and cultural icon, Billie Holiday, spent her early years in Baltimore, as celebrated by multiple murals around town, as well as an eight-foot-tall bronze statue on Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore. Holiday pioneered a new style of vocal performance in which she fluctuated her pitch to create contrast between musical phrases, mimicking the sound of jazz instruments. Many musicians have cited her as a creative inspiration, including Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell.

Renowned fiber artist Elizabeth Talford Scott moved to Baltimore during the Great Migration. Her abstract, intricate quilts have been shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and many institutions across the country. Her daughter, Joyce J. Scott, is also an artist best known for her beaded works depicting racial and political subjects; she lives in Baltimore and her work is often on display at the BMA.

Lucille Clifton’s career as a poet took off while she lived in Charm City from 1968-1985; she published her first collection while living here, taught at Coppin State and was named Maryland’s poet laureate—the second female and first Black person to earn the honor. Lucille’s Baltimore home in Windsor Hills is now a writer’s workshop and creative haven. Emmy-winning actresses Julie Bowen and Jada Pinkett Smith were also born and raised in Baltimore in the 1970s.

Baltimore has birthed several female activists and politicians. Considered the mother of the Civil Rights movement, Lillie Carroll Jackson grew the Baltimore branch of the NAACP into the largest in America. You can learn more about Jackson’s impact at the free Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum in her former home. Her daughters Juanita and Virginia Jackson organized the City-Wide Young People’s Forum, which advocated for the end of discriminatory policies, and Juanita went on to become the first African American woman to practice law in Maryland. Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, is also from Baltimore; her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., served as Baltimore’s mayor from 1947-1959.

Women-Owned Businesses in Baltimore

From boutiques and art studios to sweet shops and cultural attractions, women run Baltimore’s small business scene.

Spice up your wardrobe with the one-of-a-kind threads found at Baltimore’s women-owned vintage boutiques like Get Shredded, Milk & Ice, Hunting Ground, Bottle of Bread, Illicit Rag, Charlotte Elliott and ReDeux. More contemporary fashions can be found at Brightside, where owner Christie Vazquez carries popular brands like Free People, Levis and Steve Madden. Hampden’s Milagro carries an array of globally inspired goods, from earrings made in India to Portuguese pottery.

While you’re at it, refresh your living space with the bold, vibrant decor available at Pandora’s Box in Federal Hill, including cheeky dish towels and Charm City-inspired throw pillows. Keep your home smelling fresh with hand-poured non-toxic candles from KSM Candle Co. and Casa Figlia; pepper in some plants from B. Willow in Remington to purify your air and add color to your space. Found Studio in Hamilton-Lauraville is the place to find art and home goods designed by local creatives; owner Kacey Stafford is an artist herself, so she has an eye for quality materials (Keep an eye out for local papercut artist Annie Howe’s creations in store!). Other female artists to watch in Charm City include muralist Jaz Erenberg, whose work appears on the exterior of the Royal Blue in Station North; Juliet Ames, whose artistic salt boxes occupy street corners around the city; and Jody Davis, the fashion designer behind First Lady Dawn Moore’s inauguration look. Support Baltimore’s maker community by shopping locally made goods

Greedy Reads Bookstore employee standing among books

After 20 years in the publishing industry, Julia Fleischaker opened Greedy Reads in Remington and Fell’s Point, which she hopes are welcoming spaces that encourage browsing and conversation.

Writers and readers can stock up on paper goods from Baltimore’s women-owned bookstores and stationary shops, including Greedy Reads, Dreamers & Make-Believers, the Ivy Bookshop and Paper Herald. At Drama MaMa Bookshop in Federal Hill, Alisa Brock sells journals with laser-cut designs that include inspirational quotes, Baltimore rowhomes and Black icons; you can also book an appointment to create your own custom journal!

Don’t end your shopping day before picking up some self-care items. Find all-natural, cruelty-free essential oils and skincare products at SoBotanical and hair products from Oyin Handmade. Have some free time? Treat yourself to a facial, massage, IV therapy and more from KStewart Beauty, The Escape by K or Art of Balance Wellness Spa.

Female Chefs & Restaurateurs

Women are behind some of Baltimore’s most popular and award-winning eateries, from bakeries and small bites to fine dining experiences.

Chef Irena Stein, author of the world’s first arepa-focused cookbook, takes a contemporary approach to Venezuelan cuisine at her Station North restaurant Alma Cocina Latina. Don’t miss the wild caught red snapper, the croquettes and the seasonal sangria.

Dishes from Charleston Restaurant

Enjoy award-winning dishes prepared by Chef Cindy Wolf at Charleston.

A frequent James Beard Award finalist, Chef Cindy Wolf deftly applies French cooking techniques to southern cuisine at Charleston in Harbor East. Acclaimed dishes include the lobster bisque, cornmeal-fried oysters and black truffle risotto. Along with partner Tony Foreman, Chef Wolf also runs local restaurants Petit Louis Bistro, Cinghiale, Johnny’s and Cindy Lou’s Fish House.

“Top Chef” alum Jesse Sandlin‘s three Charm City restaurants—Sally O’s in Highlandtown, Bunny’s in Fell’s Point and The Dive in Canton—stand out for their colorful interiors, innovative cocktails and no-fuss food menus consisting of comforting classics like fried chicken, smashburgers and pizza.

Lane Harlan turned a love for travel into a successful bar and restaurant empire, and her establishments are frequented by Maryland celebrities like John Waters and Martin O’Malley. First came speakeasy W.C. Harlan, named after her grandfather, then Clavel, Maryland’s first mezcaleria and regular James Beard Award finalist. She’s also the mind behind natural wine store Angels Ate Lemons and tavern Fadensonnen.

The Urban Oyster, the first female and Black-owned oyster bar in the country, started as a farmer’s market stand and pop-up restaurant, but Chef Jasmine Norton recently opened a sit-down establishment in Hampden, where she serves plenty of oyster dishes as well as non-seafood delicacies like oxtail lasagna and her signature burger.

Since transitioning from healthcare to cooking in 2017, Elisa Milan‘s empanadas have garnered a cult-like following, allowing her to open a full-scale restaurant downtown. The Empanada Lady celebrates Milan’s Puerto Rican culture; a mural by Jaz Erenberg features the Puerto Rican resistance flag, native island plants and traditional Taino symbols, and hanging umbrellas pay homage to Old San Juan’s Umbrella Street.

Small bites & fast-casual eateries

Croissants from Cafe Dear Leon

Cafe Dear Leon, located in Canton, is named for co-owner Min Kim’s son.

Need a quick bite to go? Baltimore women have you covered there, too. Pick up a morning pastry at Cafe Dear Leon or Maillard; grab a casual lunch or dinner from Franchesca’s Empanadas Cafe or Slutty Vegan; and enjoy a sweet treat from Bmore Licks, Ice Queens, Dulceology, Berries by Quicha, Aunt Kelly’s Cookies, Natasha’s Just Brittle, Buns & Roses, Deddle’s Mini Donuts, Emma’s Tea Spot or Zoe’s Just Dezzerts.


Entertainment & Cultural Attractions

Charm City’s culture continues to be shaped by women, who are at the helm of many of our major museums and attractions. Baltimore’s three major art museums—the American Visionary Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters, are spearheaded by women, a testament to the feminine influence on the city’s creative culture. Other institutions with female leadership include the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, the B&O Railroad Museum, the Peale Museum, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Maryland Center for History and Culture.

For an unconventional history tour of Baltimore, book a Baltimore Ghost Tour, a women-owned company that rattles your bones with tales of missing sailors and lingering spirits and introduces you to the naughty, wicked and depraved privateers and ladies of the night who once roamed Baltimore’s streets.

For evening entertainment, head to The Strand, Baltimore’s only brick-and-mortar theater space devoted to solely producing works written by female-identifying playwrights. Recognizing that theater traditionally was a man’s occupation, The Strand strives to highlight new voices and amplify the womxn stories that have long been overshadowed.

Baltimore Museums to Uncover Women's History

American Visionary Art Museum

Consistently named one of the best art museums in the country, AVAM contains more than 4,000 pieces by self-taught artists. One of which is Judith Scott, the twin sister of Joyce Scott, whose work is on display at the museum until June 2025. Scott’s work grapples with themes of liberation, resiliency and the transformative power of art. While at AVAM, don’t miss Esther Krinitz’s 36 hand-embroidered tapestries, which tell the story of how she survived the Holocaust.

Baltimore Museum of Art

This free art museum near Johns Hopkins University has made concentrated efforts in recent years to feature works from underrepresented communities, including female, queer, indigenous and BIPOC artists. Current women-centric exhibitions include “Art/Work: Women Printmakers of the WPA” and “Walk a Mile in My Dreams,” an intimate view of Baltimore-based artist Joyce J. Scott’s impressive 50-year career and the family history that helped shape it. Her mother Elizabeth Talford Scott’s fiber work will also be displayed at the BMA in a companion exhibit opening fall 2024.

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture

The Smithsonian-affiliated Reginald F. Lewis Museum celebrates the history and culture of African American Marylanders and frequently features exhibitions that highlight the contributions of Black women. On display until Sept. 30, 2024, “Black Woman Genius: Elizabeth Talford ScottTapestries of Generations” puts Scott’s work in conversation with nine contemporary artists to underline her role as a pioneer in the field of fiber arts and a maternal figure to generations of Black female creatives. The exhibit is part of the Elizabeth Talford Scott Community Initiative, which is organizing several displays of Scott’s work across Baltimore this year.

Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum

Upon her death, Dr. Lillie Carroll Jackson bequeathed her four-story row home in Bolton Hill, where civil rights campaigns were often organized, as a museum about the battle against racial prejudice. Today the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum houses six galleries filled with drawings, paintings, letters, photographs and historic documents related to the Civil Rights Movement.

Maryland Women’s Heritage Center

From their office in Mount Vernon, The Maryland Women’s Heritage Center documents and celebrates the contributions of past and present Maryland women and advocates for equal opportunities. Although they are only open by appointment for special events at this time, their website highlights the stories of lesser-known Baltimore women and provides suggestions for self-guided tours and must-see Charm City stops.

Maryland Center for History & Culture

MCHC houses the largest collection of Maryland history documenting life from pre-settlement through present day. Through November 2024, view the designs of Claire McCardell, who redefined women’s fashion in America during the 1930s-1950s. You can also view a stunning quilt by Elizabeth Talford Scott, crafted from the scraps of family members’ clothing and household fabrics, in conversation with other quilts made by the African American Quilters of Baltimore.

Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Mary Pickersgill owned the Jonestown home where she, her mother and her daughter sewed the garrison flag the inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner”— a rare accomplishment for women at that time. Today, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House is a museum where you can learn about life in 1812 and experience what it was like to cook in a replica of Pickersgill’s kitchen.