Highlighting women who helped build the tourism industry in OC

OCEAN CITY, Md. – Ocean City is a popular destination for tourists but it didn’t start that way. 47 ABC got a look at some of the women that helped build the foundation for tourism in the town. “I feel like they set the bar high and they set up some businesses that Ocean City hadn’t experienced,” says Christine Okerblom, a curator with the OC Lifesaving Museum.

A tourism gem on the eastern shore, Ocean City is full of beaches, restaurants, and of course, places to stay like hotels and motels. Dating back to the early 1800s, Zippy Lewis, a woman who collected shipwreck remains on the beach and sold them. “Known for her resourcefulness, making money in an unconventional way,” says Okerblom. Lewis’ expenditures afforded her the ability to own land, which she passed on to two of her five children, which happened to be both girls. “This was very rare for women to inherit the land,” adds Okerblom.

Zippy was just the beginning, as more people flooded the beach town, groups like the Petticoat Regime came forward to give the town something special. “This represented a group of eight forward-thinking women who were responsible for opening some of Ocean City’s first hotels,” states Okerblom.

This forward-thinking led to iconic destinations in the town, and the OC Lifesaving Museum captures some of these stories. Lois Harrison, who built the Harrison Hall Hotel, Ann Showell, who built and operated the Castle in the Sand Hotel, Shirley Phillips, of the famous Phillips Crab House, and some women even created a place for black tourists. “The Henry Hotel was one of few hotels that accommodated black patrons in the 50s 60s and even 70s,” says Okerblom.

Along with the Petticoat Regime, the Steel Magnolias were created, also known to run hotels and motels. This brought forth iconic places like the Dunes Manor and the Ocean Mecca. Many of these women, we’re told, brought a new concept of luxury to the town of Ocean City. “These women were hard-working they were innovative, oftentimes they were creating these businesses without their husbands,” says Okerblom. She tells us some of these hotels featured private beaches and even golf privileges, something not seen yet on the Eastern Shore.

Years later, we’re told their legacies carry on. “Nonetheless, their family ran establishments to this day, which I think speaks volumes as well,” says Okerblom.

Okerblom also says highlighting these remarkable women gives hope for entrepreneurs in Ocean City, and also keeps history alive for the younger generation. “There are so many stories of that, that have taken place throughout the years whether it be women or men,” says Okerblom. She adds, “It’s an area that has offered an opportunity for many.”

The Ocean City Lifesaving Museum is open on the weekends in April, and May through October, it’s open seven days a week.

Categories: Local News, Maryland