Isabel Shipley Cunningham, Author Of Pasadena History Books, Passes Away At Age 95


In April 1999, the Pasadena community received a gift unlike any other when “Between Two Rivers: A Panoramic View of the Pasadena Peninsula” was published by the Pasadena Business Association (PBA). Research for the book, which took thousands of hours and countless interviews and pages of handwritten notes, turned Pasadena into one of the most carefully explored communities in Maryland.

Over the last 15 years, “Between Two Rivers” and its follow-up book, “The Pasadena Peninsula: A Closer Look at the Land Between Two Rivers,” has won a prestigious state award, has brought in profits used by the PBA to fund scholarships for local students, and is currently shelved in the Library of Congress.

The book’s success, however, would not have been possible had it not been for the extensive research and meticulous organization conducted by one woman: Isabel Shipley Cunningham. Cunningham, the author of “Between Two Rivers” and “The Pasadena Peninsula,” passed away on April 18 at the age of 95.

“Isabel was a very gentle woman with a great smile. She was also strong and determined. She knew exactly what needed to be done [for the book] and reminded the rest of us on the project if she thought we needed it,” said Wendy Harris, who worked alongside Cunningham as the book’s editor. “She was a joy to work with.”

Born Isabel Wesley Shipley in 1919 to Marvin and Claudine Shipley, she graduated from Glen Burnie High School in 1935. With a passion for English and social studies, she went on to study the two subjects at Goucher College in Baltimore, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1939. After her college graduation, she accepted teaching positions at Southern High School in Anne Arundel County and Catonsville High School in Baltimore County.

In June 1943, Isabel wed Chipman Woodward Cunningham, who was called to serve in World War II in the 30th Infantry Division after only three months of training. The couple saw each other only around a total of eight times the year prior to their wedding. They were able to correspond regularly while Chipman was away through letters and romantic cards. Isabel saved many of them in her scrapbooks.

During Chipman’s time away, Isabel continued her studies in graduate school by attending Smith College, a private liberal arts college for women located in Northampton, Massachusetts. She received her Master of Arts degree in English in 1945.

Over the years, Cunningham authored more than 40 articles and published books on various subjects – horticulture, oriental art, and Maryland history among them. Her writings in the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society’s publication garnered such popularity and admiration that when the idea for a Pasadena history book was initiated in the late-1990s by the Pasadena Business Association, Cunningham was asked if she would consider taking the role as author.

“The book committee interviewed her - she impressed us immediately with the way she said she would approach interviews and her knowledge of publishing historical stories,” Harris stated.

PBA member Jim Anderson, who worked on the book’s financial committee, will always remember Cunningham for her desire to capture Pasadena accurately and in a manner that would preserve the area’s history for generations to come. “We were so blessed to have Mrs. Cunningham agree to take on such a project. Her willingness to devote so much of her time to research and interview was beyond any of our expectations,” he shared. “Years after the books were published, a group of us had lunch with her in Annapolis, and her continued love of history and sharing that history was a wonderful experience.”

Pasadena resident and PBA member Maureen Agro, who served as the assistant editor, also has fond memories of working with Cunningham. “The history books had a committee that made everything possible, but long hours were spent with both Wendy [Harris] and Isabel, the three of us going over every word for accuracy, grammar and readability,” Agro explained of the process. “There were hundreds of photographs - professional ones by Isabel's friend, the late Marion E. Warren, amateur photographer submissions, and photos culled from family albums. The most difficult job was deciding what to include and what to leave out of the books.”

Agro also described the communication technology used back then as quite antiquated. “This was the time when the quickest way to send copy for proofing was a fax machine - I had to replace two of them,” she said. “But if there was ever a time when I felt overwhelmed or overworked, there was no thought of quitting this project. Working with Isabel was exciting and a privilege. Besides, she would never have tolerated anything but full dedication to the project. Isabel was a lovely person, enjoyed life immensely, and shared her intelligence and talent with Pasadena.”


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