In an unusual twist of fate, the Ridgely native – and prominent teacher, suffragette, and businesswoman – received more attention from the Baltimore press than from local media during her remarkable lifetime.
[ Researched and written by Caroline County historian Chad Dean in Caroline Past and Present. Republished here with permission and in collaboration with the Caroline Digital History Project. ]
After being named valedictorian during commencement exercises at the Ridgely Academy, Nettie Caroline Dean enrolled at the Maryland State Normal School (now Towson University). Upon returning to Caroline County, Dean was named principal at the Choptank School. She would later be hired away to Kent County to teach in Rock Hall, where she would first make waves.
Dean made statewide news in 1901 via some rather unwanted publicity. Numerous resources around Maryland pointed out that groups of parents especially in Kent County but elsewhere during this era were challenging the practice of corporal punishment in schools. Nettie got caught up in this movement as she was arrested in 1901 for whipping a male student by the last name of Collier with a switch. Newspapers in every corner of the state, at the height of yellow journalism sensationalism, followed the story with interest; she was found not guilty and again exonerated on appeal in 1902 as the courts ruled that disciplining schoolchildren in the manner she pursued was justified when warranted. Moral of the story: do not mess with the Dean family, especially ones that are educators! Ahem.
Subsequently, Dean took up residence in Baltimore. While she adamantly pointed out to anyone that questioned her that she only rented in the city while continuing to own property in Caroline County, it is easy to see how a smart, independent woman would feel more accepted in a progressive, urban area. She made the most of her time there, earning regular attention from the Baltimore Sun due to her spirited efforts in campaigning for the right to vote for women. Easily one of the most well-known suffragettes in Maryland around the turn of the century, Dean earned admiration and awards from feminist organizations around the state but also [predictably] scorn and derision from male writers in the Sun’s letters to the editor column.
She made enough noise to be noticed in Annapolis as well. A familiar face in the halls of the state capitol from petitioning for the right to vote, Dean ended up impressing legislators to the extent that she was hired to work for the Speaker of the House of Delegates in 1910.
Dean returned to the media spotlight in 1912 when she was called to be a witness in a high-profile bribery case based on what she had observed in the halls of the legislative complex. The Baltimore Sun again gushed at her poise in delivering key testimony, also noting that she was the reigning “stormy petrel of Maryland politics” which was undoubtedly a compliment from the progressive newspaper in an age of burgeoning female efficacy in government. In this time period she also successfully protested a lack of additional pay in working the periodic evening sessions of the Maryland General Assembly. I should additionally note that Nettie served as the executor of the estate of both her mother and father, which was rare at the time but again showed just how astute and respected she was in what was still a male-dominated era in almost all facets of public and private life.
Reinventing herself yet again, Dean briefly relocated to Daytona Beach in January of 1914 to operate the Raymond Hotel. By summer she had returned to the Eastern Shore, this time to purchase (with her sister Virginia) the Colonial Hotel in Ocean City — which was one of the original three hotels built in the resort town, it should be mentioned. This pattern would continue for several decades as she wintered in Florida and ran the Maryland resort hotel during our traditional beach season. Denton Journal records indicate that both properties were a revolving door of sorts as family members and friends from Caroline County were guests and employees of hers in both Ocean City and Florida; many would often reciprocate that hospitality for her when she returned to Ridgely. The same local newspaper gave glowing reviews after Virginia and Nettie completed a remodel of the Colonial Hotel in 1915, calling the lodging “attractive” and “homelike” in an endorsement for the coming vacation months.
It is a wonder that she found time to be courted by suitors, but Dean did marry Charles Carter in 1917. A newspaperman, scholar, and political activist cut from the mold of Theodore Roosevelt, Carter would assist her in hotel ownership in Maryland and Florida as well as for a time work out of Washington, DC — which allowed Nettie to continue her efforts in political circles in Annapolis and also the nation’s capital. They had no children together but she helped raise Carter’s three kids from a previous marriage.
Upon her husband’s death in 1943, Nettie Dean Carter sold the Colonial Hotel. It remained a fixture of the boardwalk, between First and Second Street, into the 1970s before being replaced by a modern condominium complex.
Stand in the Place
The Life and Times of Nettie Caroline Dean Carter
Choptank students attended Hunting Creek School until a school was built near Choptank in 1893. Choptank School was categorized by the school board as Public School in 1918 and a Rural School in 1924 and 1925.
Nettie C. Dean Carter is buried at the Denton Cemetery. Find her tombstone and visit in pilgrimage during Women’s History Month in March.
The Colonial Hotel remained a fixture of the boardwalk, between First and Second Street, into the 1970s before being replaced by a modern condominium complex.
The History Behind the Story
Snow Hill Democratic Messenger
Prince George’s Examiner
Der Deutsche Correspondent
The research of family genealogist Lee Ann Dean