As we continue to highlight women who have played a vital role in Maryland’s history, today we are featuring Mary Mish. Mish was a historic preservationist in Washington County and, among other accomplishments, worked to turn Harper’s Ferry into a National Monument and National Historical Park. She oversaw the restoration of the Jonathan Hager House in Hagerstown and was one of the founding members of the Maryland Historical Trust. She was also the first female president of the Washington County Historical Society. Although she was not born in Maryland, Mish had a significant impact on the historic preservation of our state.

The First Female president of the Washington County Historical Society

Mary Vernon was born in New York in 1905. In 1927, she married Frank W. Mish, Sr., becoming Mary Mish in the process. The couple then moved to Hagerstown, Maryland and had two sons. Soon after, Mary and Frank restored Maidstone-on-the-Potomac, a historic building in West Virginia. Mary became active in her town’s historical societies. From 1942-1948, she served as the president of the Washington County Historical Society, becoming the first female president of the group. With her guidance, the society successfully restored Hager House and saved Fort Frederick.

Historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia — Wikimedia user Jesse Lee Tucker.

Harpers Ferry National Monument

Mary’s biggest preservation efforts came after she met Dr. Henry McDonald in 1946. McDonald, the former mayor of Harpers Ferry and president of the Harpers Ferry National Monument Association, spoke to Mish about land acquisition in Maryland for a Harpers Ferry Monument. The two bonded immediately, and Mish set off to lobby the Maryland government for land. In 1952, Maryland’s Department of Forests and Parks gave $40,000 to the project; in 1956, it donated $25,000 more. It is thanks to Mish’s determination that Maryland was able to acquire land for the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and National Monument.

Mish’s leadership

Hager House in Hagerstown, MD. Photo from the Greater Baltimore Model A Ford Club.

Throughout the rest of her life, Mish continued to advocate for historic preservation. She oversaw the restoration of the Jonathan Hager House and the General Adam Stephen House in Martinsburg, WV. She led archeology digs that uncovered eighteenth-century artifacts. In 1961, Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes appointed Mish as a founding trustee of the Maryland Historical Trust. In 1962, Mish earned the first Maryland Heritage Award from the Maryland Historical Society. Mish passed away in 1968 at the age of 63.

Mary Mish was a woman who fought to preserve the past. This Women’s History Month, we honor her efforts and remember her dedication to history. Consider visiting Hager House or Fort Frederick State Park — both in Washington County — to celebrate her contributions to Maryland.

RELATED: Our Work in Hagerstown

Thank you to the Washington County Historical Society for the image of Mish used in the lead photo.

Content for this blog was researched and compiled by Allyn Lawrence, Preservation Maryland’s Spring 2022 Public History and Communications Intern. Working through the Waxter Intern Program, Allyn composes articles on topics relating to Maryland’s history and culture. She is a recent graduate of Towson University.