Helen Delich Bentley: Farewell to a Firebrand

Former Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley

Langsdale Special Collections is crestfallen to hear of the passing of feisty former Maryland Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley. Many remember Mrs. Bentley as a tireless advocate for the Port of Baltimore; a seasoned journalist– where she covered maritime for the Baltimore Sun and WMAR-TV; and a trailblazer for women in politics and in media (the beats she covered– labor and the waterfront–  were hardly the norm for female journos of the era).
Helen Bentley– who not only represented Maryland’s 2nd Congressional district from 1985 to 1995, but made an unsuccessful bid to win the Republican nomination for Governor in 1994 (Ellen Sauerbrey was the party’s pick, and she ended up losing to Democrat Parris Glendening)– was also fondly remembered as a meticulous and exhaustive record keeper.
“She saved everything,” a former staffer recalls.
To wit: In 1996 Mrs. Bentley generously donated 420.2 linear feet of her papers to University of Baltimore, the equivalent of roughly 420 standard archival boxes – that span a storied 50-year career in journalism, politics, and advocacy– from 1945 to 1995.

Then-Governor William Donald Schaefer and Bentley in 1991
Helen on Parade, Highlandtown , 1991

The boxes contain press releases, letters, position statements, scripts, speeches, news clips, A/V materials, and a plethora of other ephemera— providing a wealth of information on this legend in Maryland politics. Bentley’s brash and outspoken style put her in a great tradition of colorful local politicians —  late Governor William Donald Schaefer and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (both of whom she counted as friends, and both Democrats) spring to mind.

Bentley was a tireless crusader for U.S. manufacturing, trade and labor, and maritime concerns. In the mid-1960s she created a television show for WMAR-TV, “The Port that Built a City.”  In 1969, Mrs. Bentley was appointed chair to the Federal Maritime Commission by U.S. President Richard Nixon, and was the highest ranking woman in his administration. In 1984 she was elected to the United States 99th Congress, representing Maryland’s 2nd Congressional district and served for 10 years. University of Baltimore is honored to preserve this great piece of Maryland history, and we, as are many, are grateful to Helen Bentley for her gift to the University and her tireless service to the people of Maryland.

a young constituent bends Bentley’s ear

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