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Who Was Margaret Brent?

St. Mary’s Ryken High School students got an interesting lecture on the life and legacy of America’s first female attorney and suffragist on Thursday afternoon.  The lecture was delivered by SMRHS alumni Aleck Loker, who was in the Catholic school’s first freshmen class when the school opened in 1956.

Loker graduated from St. Mary’s Ryken High School in 1960.  When he started attending class at the school, it was a one building school where classes were held at night.  Now, the school looks more like a community college.  Loker is a freelance writer with a lot of knowledge about history in St. Mary’s County and a former Patuxent River Naval Air Station employee.

His lecture focused on the life of Margaret Brent, cousin to Lord Baltimore and third cousin to first Maryland Governor Leonard Calvert.  Because of her relationship to Lord Calvert and Lord Baltimore, she was granted the right to own land by Lord Baltimore when she moved to St. Mary’s City from England in 1638 at 38 years old.

Brent worked as an attorney, even a prosecutor under Lord Calvert, and is recognized by the American Bar Association as the first female attorney in the United States.  When Lord Calvert died, he had appointed Margaret Brent the executor of his estate.  However, his militia wanted his debt repaid to them after the English Civil War.  Brent thought the debt should be repaid to the militia from the public treasury.

In 1648, Brent went before the Maryland Provincial Court to request the right to vote as a landowner and as Lord Baltimore’s attorney.   Governor Thomas Greene refused, citing that the right to vote for women should only be reserved for queens.  Brent’s request came some 200 years before the women’s suffrage movement began in the United States.

Brent moved to Virginia in 1650 with her brother Giles and his 20 year-old Piscataway wife Mary.  She spent the remainder of her life there, owning land in what is now Stafford County and owning some land in Charles County.  Her land in Charles County was left to her nephew, James Clifton.  Her land in Virginia was left to Giles and his children.  The date of her death is unknown, but is believed to be in either late 1670 or early 1671.

More information about Margaret Brent can be found on the Maryland State Archives at: http://mdarchives.us/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/002100/002177/html/brochure.html

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