Take Five with Elizabeth Atwood

September 14, 2020 | By Baltimore County Public Library

Portrait of Elizabeth Atwood

Dr. Elizabeth Atwood is an Associate Professor of Journalism  at Hood College, and a former reporter and editor with the "Baltimore Sun."  Her recent book "The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison: America's First Female Intelligence Agent" is about the fascinating life of a Catonsville socialite turned spy in World War I. She answered a few questions for us about writing the book.

1. How did you get interested in writing about Marguerite Harrison? 

I first heard about Marguerite Harrison when I was a reporter at the "Baltimore Sun." She was part of the newspaper lore and her photo was outside of a conference room. When I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical from my teaching at Hood College, I decided to write a book about the best story I knew that had not been written. Harrison had written memoirs and several historians had written articles and chapters about her, but no one had published a book-length biography. 

2. Did you find out anything that surprised you about Baltimore’s history in your research? 

I wasn’t completely aware of the anti-German hysteria that swept through the city during World War I and the cases of sabotage that originated from Baltimore. I also learned a tremendous amount about the lives of Baltimore’s upperclass that I hadn’t known before. It was fun reading about the debutantes and the Baltimore social scene in the early 20th century. 

3. What are you reading now? 

“Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. I love reading true stories such as this. 

4. What is your writing process? 

I try to write early in the mornings and set a goal for a certain number of pages per week. I’ve found self-imposed deadlines are the best way to get motivated. It probably comes from my many years as a news reporter. 

Photo of the book cover Marguerite Harrison

5. Has your writing process changed during the pandemic? What is the most unexpected thing you’ve discovered during quarantine and what person-place-thing do you miss the most? 

The pandemic actually has helped my writing because I have had fewer distractions. Or at least that was the case until a few weeks ago when I returned to teaching at Hood. For me, the pandemic gave me some time for quiet and reflection that I needed. I most miss seeing my colleagues at Hood and being able to talk face-to-face with students. Although I’m in the classroom, some of my students are taking my classes online and that’s hard on all of us. 

Author Discussion

Register today to join us Thursday, September 17, at 7 p.m. for a book discussion with the author, and to learn more about this important and memorable person from Baltimore County's history.

Category: Collection and Materials