A History of Women in Ocean City Governance

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Virginia Ayres Dukes, c. 1937

The Maryland General Assembly first incorporated “The Commissioners of Ocean City” on April 12, 1880. The statute established a town council of three commissioners, “who are owners of real estate” in the Town of Ocean City, to serve for two years. To be an eligible voter, individuals were required to be a male resident of Worcester County and to own property in Ocean City. In 1894, the Maryland General Assembly changed the name from “The Commissioners of Ocean City” to “Mayor and City Council of Ocean City.”

It was not until 1948 that a woman ran for City Council. Virginia Ayres Dukes filed that year, but she did not win a seat in the election. She tried again in 1950 with the same result. Over the next 16 years, seven women ran for spots on City Council and one, Angela “Angel” Russoniello Case, ran for mayor.

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Campaign card for Elizabeth S. Gordy, c. 1952

In 1976, Thelma Conner was elected as Ocean City’s first Councilwoman. She served on the City Council until 1984. In the years since, five women have served: Sally S. Hacking (1988-1992), Nancy Howard (1996-2008), Erin Fitzsimmons (1998-2003), Margaret Pillas (2006-2014), and Mary Knight (2006-2020).

All told, there have been six women to serve on Ocean City’s City Council since 1880. To quote Ocean City resident Elizabeth S. Gordy’s 1952 campaign card: “Women are being elected to public office every year and doing an excellent job. The records prove it!”

A Vote, A Voice
A History of Women in Ocean City Governance