The first female Howard County Executive is the spokeswoman for Year of the Woman
By Beth Hauptle
Liz Bobo has some good advice for women: “Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to go with them,” she says. As Maryland’s first female County Executive and the first and only in Howard County, Bobo knows what it takes to be true to yourself and at the same time love your family, serve your community, and protect the earth. She says she’s always seen life as a whole. “Everything is connected,” she says.
Bobo served Howard County for 33 years: first as a Howard County Council member then as County Executive and finally as a Representative in the Maryland House of Delegates. She retired in 2014.
Bobo has been selected to be the spokesperson for the Howard County Historical Society’s Year of the Howard County Woman, to support the Historical Society in putting women front and center throughout the year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Shawn Gladden, Executive Director of the Howard County Historical Society, says that Bobo is the perfect spokesperson for the anniversary. “Liz has been such a fixture in our county for years,” he says. “And she’s a great friend of the Historical Society.” Gladden points out that Bobo is respected throughout Howard County, so the appointment, he says, “makes a lot of sense.”
Bobo’s learned about the new Columbia when she was in her 20s, a young mother who was just completing her bachelor’s degree. She heard that developer Jim Rouse, who became her “quiet, gentle mentor,” had made some of nascent community’s village centers available to community groups for meetings. One of these was the Women’s Center, with a membership that included some of the early leaders of the local women’s movement. When she started attending these meetings, Bobo says she was extremely shy. Women would sit on desks or bookcases, lean against the wall, or sit cross-legged on the floor. “I would sit in a corner, close my eyes, and pray to God that nobody noticed me or would call on me,” she says with a laugh.
“I don’t know where the shyness came from, and I have no idea where it went,” she says. “But I do know that this atmosphere for women was created by Jim Rouse himself.”
The Women’s Center meetings helped Bobo learn about women’s history and the women’s movement, topics not previously on her radar. She eventually attended the University of Maryland Law School at the age of 35, but before that, and before her political career began, she was active in issues affecting Howard County.
Bobo was involved in ensuring that the placement of Route 100 would consider school boundaries and safety issues. And she worked to ensure that Howard County General Hospital remain vibrant by preventing competing facilities to move in.
As County Executive from 1986 to 1990, Bobo was a champion of environmental issues. There are two kinds of growth, she says: erecting buildings and developing community. Jim Rouse paid attention to both, she says. “It’s more than bricks and mortar. It’s economic, social, environmental, and spiritual.”
As we embark on the centennial of the 19th Amendment, how does Bobo think women are faring these days? Women are more respected and valued in the workplace than ever before, she says, and not just in terms of their paychecks (though she notes, parity has not yet been reached). “It’s the impact women have on the workplace environment,” she points out. “It’s respect for intelligence, respect for skill, respect for creativity.”
Bobo points to better accommodations and flexibility for working mothers but acknowledges that there’s a long way to go.
She will be participating in speaking engagements and events with the Historical Society throughout the year. The Year of the Howard County Woman is important, she says, particularly so younger women can see the accomplishments of the women who came before them. “It’s important that all of our population better understands the role women are playing—not only in their paying jobs—but in volunteering in the community and in being good mothers.”
Bobo holds up Greta Thunberg as a model. In speaking to the United Nations about climate change, the young activist is garnering more attention than many adults would, Bobo says, adding, “Don’t be afraid to step out there and make a contribution. Get out there and run for office. Work with community organizations. Don’t underestimate yourself.”
Back to Year of the Howard County Woman