Dr. Lois Green Carr
Mar 19, 2011 03:00AM
● By Anonymous
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Behind a warren of office cubicles is a special office marked with a plaque that reads: “Lois Green Carr, Historian, Historic St. Mary’s City.” The office space was provided for her use, a rare honor, by Edward C. Papenfuse, the state archivist and commissioner of land patents. Semiretired, Carr has use of the office for as long as she wishes.
“If you go down to St. Mary’s City today,” says Papenfuse, “all you see is an experience every school child should have. That program could not exist without Lois’ efforts to dig out life in the 17th century.”
Colleague Jean B. Russo, associate general editor of the Archives of Maryland Online, elaborates: “Lois is important in making the history of Maryland known locally, nationally, and internationally. Everything she has worked on has been shared with the public through the museum in St. Mary’s City. Over the past 25 years, it’s become quite a remarkable program. The foundation is based on research she has done.”
In 2000, Carr was inducted into the Maryland Women Hall of Fame. “She comes from a long line of historians,” said the late Jack Ladd Carr, (her husband of 46 years, who recently passed away in January). Her grandfather, Andrew McLaughlin, was a constitutional historian at the Universities of Chicago and Michigan. Her mother, Dr. Constance McLaughlin Green, worked on a history project in Washington with the Department of Defense.
Carr earned her bachelor’s degree at Swarthmore College and her master’s degree at Radcliffe. She received her doctorate at Harvard in 1968, 25 years after earning her master’s degree, while continuing her work at the Maryland Archives.
She met Allen Clark, her first husband, while she was at Radcliffe. They had a child, Andrew Clark, who lives in Baltimore. While Clark taught at Columbia University in New York, Carr taught at Juilliard School of Music and worked as a copy editor for Knopf Publishing.
In 1954, St. John’s College hired Clark as a tutor, and the family settled in Annapolis. A few years later the Clarks divorced.
In 1956, Carr joined the staff at the Maryland Archives, then located on the St. John’s campus.
Jack Ladd Carr met his future wife in 1962 at the Little Campus Inn at 63 Maryland Avenue, now Galway Bay. He was the director of planning for the City of Annapolis. “Charlotte Fletcher introduced us and we courted at Little Campus,” he smiled, during our interview, when research for this article was conducted last fall. “We’d meet ‘accidentally’ there for a while,” his bride giggled. They married in July 1963.
She attracted a group of young researchers to Annapolis, lured by the archives’ extensive collection of documents. “Lois became their den mother,” said her husband. “I tagged along because it was fun to be a part of it. It grew beyond St. Mary’s City to the Chesapeake region. They moved over into Virginia history as well. Lois looked at never-before-studied data in these archives.”
She protests, “I only worked up until the American Revolution. People working with me moved on to other eras.”
A colleague describes her role: “Lois provided vital historical information to allow us to see what Maryland’s first city—St. Mary’s—looked like,” says Henry Miller, director of research, Historic St. Mary’s City. “Lois had a wider perspective. Archaeology and architectural history could be merged to create a more complete and deeper understanding of the past. Lois was very forward thinking. She integrated that information, which is one of her strengths.”
“She has a magnificent mind and sees insights others missed,” he says, pointing out that Carr is still the historian of Historic St. Mary’s City—a post she’s held since 1967.
Inside the office at the Maryland State Archives, Carr, 87, still works part-time, surrounded by worn, gray file boxes. One box, torn and repaired a few times, is marked: “St. Mary’s Co. Wills Abstracts 1740s–1750s.” On a nearby desk rest several books Carr wrote or co-wrote, among them the groundbreaking, award-winning volume, Robert Cole’s World: Agriculture & Society in Early Maryland, which Carr co-wrote with Russell R. Menard and Lorena S. Walsh. Also there is Colonial Chesapeake Society, which Carr co-wrote with Philip D. Morgan and her archives colleague Jean Russo.
Carr is a giant among historians who specialize in early American history, revered for a mind that cracked open the mysteries of a Maryland farmer’s hardscrabble life in the mid-1700s.
“Lois is critical and central to Chesapeake
history,” says Papenfuse. “She is modest about what she does.” To honor her contributions, this past November the Economic History Association organized a conference in her honor. One by one, colleagues, many of whom she hadn’t seen in years, stood up to recount the achievements of their mentor, who served as the association’s president and organized its original
conference years ago.
One of her coauthors, Lorena S. Walsh, a historian with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, notes: “When I worked with her back in the ’70s, I learned Lois has incredible energy and a knack for getting people to work together. Historians aren’t known for that.”
The two women, though two decades apart in age, collaborated on fifteen books and articles. One of their first works was the article “The Planter’s Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland.” It has been reproduced in college textbooks and high school AP history courses. William & Mary students researched the number of books and articles that referenced the article or used a similar research strategy and came up with 125 different titles.
“Other people called us the Mafia of Maryland History,” Walsh chuckles. “We were a group of historians and archaeologists working on Chesapeake history. We spent a lot of time at the old State Archives building on St. John’s campus, discussing and working with each other.”
Carr had worked with Morris L. Radoff, a previous state archivist, notes Papenfuse. It was Radoff who appointed her editor of the Maryland Manual, a compendium of Maryland state government information. “Working on this, Lois became interested in how county and state governments evolved,” says Papenfuse. “She looked at early 18th-century government in Prince Georges County.
“She also went to Harvard for her doctorate degree in history. She was its oldest graduate student and one of the first women graduates of this program. Lois wrote thousands of pages on her dissertation.”
“Lois told me she wrote the first sentence of her dissertation, then went off and spent months researching to make sure it was true,” fellow historian Russo remembers with a smile.
Carr began learning what she could by analyzing the inventories of plantation owners of that period, which also provided lists of servants and slaves. “She got at questions of the fabric of that society,” says Papenfuse. “It was an unparalleled achievement.”
Papenfuse recalls that Carr can have a stubborn streak. Carr used to walk from her Eastport home to work at the State Archives Building on Rowe Boulevard every morning—and walk home again at night.
“Jack finally convinced her to only walk over. He’d drive her back in the evening,” Papenfuse chuckles.