Jessie Gladden, a venerated Baltimore educator who once hosted a learning program on Maryland Public Television and was the mother of a state senator, died Aug. 18 at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. She was 85.
Sen. Lisa Gladden, a Democrat who represents Baltimore in the Maryland General Assembly, confirmed her mother’s death but said they had not yet identified a cause of death.
“She wasn’t ‘sick,’ sick. She wasn’t taking medication for anything,” Gladden said. “But the last couple of weeks she just went down.”
The 51-year-old lawmaker said she believed her mother’s death reflected her desire to reunite with the love of her life, her deceased husband Elzee Gladden, a distinguished Baltimore City educator known for turning around troubled schools, former principal of Baltimore’s Dunbar High School and the first doctoral degree recipient at Morgan State University.
“My mother wanted to be with one person—my father, who has been dead for 20 years…She didn’t belong here; she belonged with him,” Sen. Gladden said. Commenting on the thunder and lightning that rent the sky on the day of her mother’s death, she added, “He just waited for her to get there, and when she did, all of heaven was celebrating for them…They’re making up for lost time.”
The pair met in 1956 at their first teaching assignment, Charles Hamilton Houston Elementary School in Baltimore, where she taught history and he taught math. Eight months after that first meeting, Sen. Gladden said, the pair were married and stayed so for 37 years until Mr. Gladden’s death from cancer in 1994.
Beyond her identity as Elzee Gladden’s partner, Jessie Gladden was, more than anything else, a teacher who believed in public education, her daughter said.
“She believed no matter what your circumstances if you had an environment with a good teacher you could learn anything,” Sen. Gladden said. “She taught so many children that you have to believe in who you are and what you have and to use what you have to be the best you can be.”
After five years at Charles Hamilton Houston, Gladden took a hiatus to raise her children, Sen. Gladden and her older brother Marc. She returned to the classroom in 1969, teaching at Pimlico Middle School until 1971. From 1973 until 1974, Gladden expanded her classroom when she taught for the show “Newslab,” which aired on Maryland Public Television. For 20 years—from 1977 to 1997—Gladden worked as a supervisor for Baltimore City Schools’ social studies curriculum. A year after her retirement from BCPS in 1992, she took a position as a teacher supervisor at Johns Hopkins University until her retirement in 2001.
Gladden was also noted for her research on Vivien Thomas, the Black surgical scientist who, with only a high school education, went on to become a surgical pioneer and instructor to many of the nation’s most noted surgeons at Johns Hopkins University. Thomas was the subject of Gladden’s master’s thesis at Morgan State University, where she earned her advanced degree in 1973.
Born Jessie Benjamin on Dec. 11, 1930, in New York City, Gladden was the daughter of a domestic worker-turned-entrepreneur and a laborer. As a teenager, Gladden moved back to her mother’s native North Carolina, where her mother operated a restaurant and a store. Following her mother’s death, Gladden moved to Baltimore, where an older sister resided.
Gladden is survived by her children and two siblings.
Funeral services will be Aug. 25 at the First Baptist Church of Baltimore, 4200 Liberty Heights Ave. in Gwynn Oak, Md.
Sen. Gladden said her mother will be interred in the same spot where her husband was buried in the historically Black Lilly of the Valley Moses Cemetery on the 5400 block of Sands Road in Anne Arundel County.
“I’ll miss her,” the younger Gladden said but added, she couldn’t help but smile because her mother “is finally where she wants to be—with my father.”