An Unusually Hot Decade

Perhaps the most notable thing to happen in Baltimore during the decade spanning 1900-1910 was the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Starting near what is today Camden Yards and scorching much of the city’s downtown businesses west of the Jones Falls river, the event led to sweeping reforms of Baltimores decaying urban infrastructure. Despite the widespread destruction, Hollins Market was spared. In fact, the Hollins Market Hall building briefly served as home to the Maryland Institute College of Art, which lost its home campus building of just over 50 years in the ruinous blaze. The Baltimore Sun reported on the generous offering of the Hall to the Maryland Institute, saying: “[t]he city authorities canceled other events and placed at our disposal Hollins Market Hall.”(1) As late as October of 1905, almost a year and a half to the date of the fire, night classes for Maryland Institute were still being held at the market.

Not withstanding the tumultuous Great Baltimore Fire and the subsequent collectively massive city wide rebuilding effort, local and national politics in Baltimore during the decade were also quite divisive and lively. In several instances, the Hollins Market Hall served as the setting for several often polemic discussions and debates on issues where which were happening across the nation.

At the center of it was race and suffrage. Maryland had been a solidly Democratic state since 1868, following the demographic trends of other “Southern” States prior to and after the Civil War. Prior to 1896, the state had elected a Democrat to the governorship in every cycle. This was despite Baltimore City having the country’s largest free black population since, a voting bloc that generally favored Republicans. In 1896, this changed when a Republican Lloyd Lowndes Jr. became the first ever Republican governor of Maryland. That same year, Marylanders voted for Republican President William McKinley for the first time in over 30 years. Lowndes and his fellow Republicans had courted the black vote and, owing in part to their success in doing do and general gains in black voter enfranchisement, they were rewarded with the state house and the presidency.

With the re-election of McKinley in 1900, many Maryland Democrats began openly expressing their contempt for the Republicans and what they viewed as the “ignorant negro suffrage” that had lost them political control (2). A Baltimore Sun editorial summed up this sentiment several years later by saying:

“We all remember the increase in lawlessness and disorder amongst the negroes when the Republicans were in power from 1896 to 1900.”(3)

One Annapolis man was much more blunt on the subject, saying:

Give the negro money for his vote at the polls, fill him with beer, whiskey, morphine and cocaine, with his disposition and temperament, low mentality, animal passions and instincts, you have an animal to deal with more savage than any beast this country is accursed with (4).

By the end of the decade, Maryland Democrats had gone so far as to support passage of a suffrage amendment to the constitution which would enfranchise white women voters at the expense of offsetting the votes of black African Americans that had helped tip the presidency. This of course was contingent upon suffrage being extended to only white women, leading one Maryland Democratic women to write in to the Baltimore Sun in 1909 with a rather sadly ironic question:

“I have just been told that if ever we women are given the right to vote in this State, unless the proposed amendment to the Constitution is passed all colored women will get the same right. Is this true? If it is, instead of being in favor of womens suffrage, which I have been for years, I shall strongly be opposed to it. Please let me know, for such a thought of a colored woman having the right to vote has never occurred to me before.”(5)

Although the Amendment ultimately failed, Maryland had returned to Democratic control by 1900 and would remain throughout the decade. However, against the backdrop of this politically vitriolic decade, Hollins Market Hall was an important setting for local Republican politicians looking to convince Baltimore African American male voters to remain loyal to the party. As early as 1907, Maryland Republicans like ex-congressman Charles Schirm held rallies at the hall to drum up support from the “black corner” of the Hollins Market Hall. In one particularly paternalistic stump speech, Schirm is quoted as saying:

“Some of you thought you were not being treated right…The Democrats asked you to come over to them and they would give you succor. Possibly you remember that when you gentlemen drew away from the Republican Lloyd Lowndes went down to defeat…We may not not give you all that you want, my friends. But what we do give you is protection.”(6)

The above stories are undoubtedly only a sampling of the many other stories which must have taken place at Hollins Market. It was my intention to show how Hollins Market Hall in the first decade of the twentieth century was a dynamic building set in an even more dynamic time in American history. One that could simultaneously serve as a temporary home for an academic institution displaced by fire to a racially charged political assembly hall for Baltimore Republicans. Further investigation of the building during this period would undoubtedly yield even more fascinating discoveries.

1. “ITS HISTORY AND WORK.” The Sun (1837-1992), Jan 02, 1905.

2. “PROMISES THE NEGROES “PROTECTION.”.” The Sun (1837-1992), Oct 26, 1907.

3. TOCSIN. “THE SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT.” The Sun (1837-1992), May 25, 1905.

4. Worthington, J. M. “FROM THE PEOPLE.” The Sun (1837-1992), Apr 19, 1909.

5. A, B. M. “The Suffrage Amendment and the Woman Suffrage.” The Sun (1837-1992), Sep 22, 1909.

6. “NEGROES THEIR TOPIC.” The Sun (1837-1992), Oct 25, 1907.

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