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  History of the Baltimore City Council

Elected at-large to a four-year term of office, the President presides over and is a voting member of the City Council. In addition, this officer serves as president of the Board of Estimates, the City's spending board.

By a majority vote, the Council chooses from among its members a Vice President, who chairs Council meetings in the President's absence.

In each of Baltimore's fourteen single-member City Council districts, representatives are elected for a four-year term. To qualify for a position on the Council, a person must be twenty-one years of age, a registered voter, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of Baltimore and the district. If a position on the Council is vacated, a new representative from the Council District is elected by a majority vote of the Council.

City Council's History
The Beginning of Baltimoretown
In 1729, the Maryland General Assembly authorized the erection of Baltimoretown on the north side of the Patapsco and appointed a group of commissioners to govern. During this time, Catholics were denied the right to vote in Maryland as they were in many of the colonies.

In 1797, the General Assembly granted a charter that created the office of Mayor and City Council. The Council was divided into 2 branches, and membership required heavy property qualifications. It was not until 1826 that the Constitution of Maryland was changed to allow Jewish citizens the right to vote or hold public office.

First Black Elected To The Council In 1890
Harry Sythe Cummings was elected to the City Council of Baltimore in 1890 and became the first black elected official in the state of Maryland. For forty years after 1890, six different black Republicans won elections for the Baltimore City Council in 13 of 18 elections. Baltimore was one of the few cities in which blacks held high public office. This was because Maryland after the Civil War did not deny blacks the right to vote as many states did. This was attributable to the population distribution of blacks in the city.

Baltimore Obtained Home Rule In 1918
Before 1918, the General Assembly enacted all local laws affecting the city. Since 1918, the Mayor and City Council have had this power. In the November election of 1922, the voters through petition replaced a two-branch council with a unicameral one. Baltimore abolished its old system of small wards, replacing them with much larger districts.

First Woman Appointed To The Council In 1937
Not until after women had the right to vote for nearly 20 years was the first woman appointed to serve in the City Council. This woman, Ella Bailey, was appointed to complete her husband's term of office. In 1943, she became the first woman elected to the City Council.

African-American Presence on the Council
During the thirties and forties no African-Americans were elected to the City Council. Although many African-American voters gradually joined the Democratic Party after World War I, their numbers were not sufficient to regain a City Council seat until the 1955 election victory of Walter Dixon for the 4th District. Since 1955 African-American representation has continued through the present. In 1991, redistricting enabled eight African-Americans to be elected to the City Council.

1967 and 1987 Are First For Women
In 1967 Victorine Q. Adams was the first woman elected to the City Council. Prior to this, only four women had served on the City Council, and all had been appointed to complete the terms of their husbands. Only 14 women have been directly elected to the Baltimore City Council, and six of them are current members. In 1987, Mary Pat Clarke was the first woman to run for citywide office and was elected City Council President.

For 250 years in Baltimore, women, African-Americans, Catholics, and Jews were all denied the right to vote and to serve on the Council. Today, they are all represented on the City Council and work together toward a better Baltimore for all.

Updated April 23, 2007