Discover Delmarva: The Petticoat Regime

Back in the early 1900s a group of women from very different backgrounds carved out a niche for themselves in Ocean City.

One of them was Mary Quillen, who built the Lankford hotel in 1926.

“At the time that she built it ,there were 32 hotels in Ocean City and 30 of them were run by women entrepreneurs”, says local historian Jim Duffy.

Quillen didn’t stop with just the hotel.

She expanded her empire on O-C’s boardwalk by building around the hotel too.

Today the Lankford Property has retail space, apartments and rooms according to family member Vernon Karst.

“She was one of the first women realtors in Ocean City. She used to walk up and down the boardwalk with a large set of keys for all the apartments and buildings she was in charge of”, says Karst.

Quillen had company though.

Another woman, Ella Dennis also made a name for herself.

Dennis’ doctor told her to find a place to live near the Ocean because it might improve her health.

“She ended up in Ocean City. She opened up some boarding houses and then she built a big hotel.”

Historian Jim Duffy says Ella Dennis is famous for sharing her thoughts on the city’s industry.

“70 percent of Ocean City is run by women and ruled by women and the men are all hen-pecked”, said Dennis.

Hence the moniker “Petticoat Regime”.

Another savvy businesswoman started out as a poor single mom from Parksley, Virginia.

Susan Mason had lots of obstacles in her way but that didn’t stop her.

“She ditched a deadbeat husband down there and ended up coming to Ocean City on a boat with like two kids and a cow in tow”, beams Duffy.

Despite the fact that Mason had the cards stacked against her, this pioneer opened up a boarding house and turned it into a very prosperous hotel.

There were a few other ladies who made their mark in Ocean City through hotel ownership.

Its a history, Vernon Karst says isn’t surprising at all.

“Honestly the men were fishing, surfing or drinking. The women ran the town”, says Karst.

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Categories: Discover Delmarva, Local News, Maryland