Marie Buhlmaier (1859-1938) came to work with immigrants at Baltimore’s port in October 1893. Miss Buhlmaier was fluent in both German and English. She distributed religious material in German, Bohemian, Polish, Croation, Russian, Greek, Yiddish, and Rumanian languages as she ministered to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the immigrants. There was no role model or “program” to follow, but Marie made herself available to people.
Miss Buhlmaier ministered wearing a homemade oilcloth apron with rows and rows of pockets filled with the good news of the Christian gospel in the immigrants’ own language. In her outstretched hands she sometimes held money for a little food or medicine. She was the first friend, first counselor, first interpreter, and first minister for a generation of new arrivals.
As the great tide of foreigners swept up to and around her, Marie Buhlmaier was a living witness to Christian compassion for the stranger. For decades she carried on a ministry which the 1896 MBUA report of the Woman’s Baptist Home Mission Society of Maryland said consisted “largely in little deeds of kindness.”
Born in 1859, she herself stepped from ship to shore at age nine in New York City. There she became the first of her immigrant family to join a German Baptist church. Soon she was working as a missionary among the stream of German-speaking immigrants who eventually helped make necessary the opening of Ellis Island. Miss Buhlmaier received her Macedonian call to serve in Baltimore after receiving three letters, all at the same time, from the First German Baptist Church, Annie Armstrong and the Home Mission Board.
In a cooperative partnership which became a model for urban Baptist work, the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1903 began to support Buhlmaier with a thousand dollars a year. Marie started sewing classes to gather children and their mothers. She and other state missionaries would teach useful skills and share the gospel. Miss Buhlmaier’s own church was begun in this matter. So was the Cross Street Good Will Center in 1916 (now known as Mallory Baptist Center).
Her work with immigrants was not always easy. During the time of World War I she was thought by many to be a German spy and her work was greatly hindered. She remained faithful to her calling.
At a meeting of the Maryland Baptist Union Association, Miss Buhlmaier interrupted Cornelius Wittenburg, of Russia, as he was speaking. This was unusual—since women did not speak before men. Her courage was mighty.
A former pupil remembered Marie fondly. Mrs. Emma Biehl said, “I will never forget the beautiful red hair—some call it strawberry blond. I consider first my God, then my mother, and Miss Marie as the sweetest persons whom I have ever known and loved. They planted seeds which developed in our lives giving us joy unspeakable and making us happy Christians.
Miss Buhlmaier was a pioneer woman who blazed trails into immigrant work where there were no precedents to follow. She had a willing heart and she used it to minister to those yearning to be free. She died in 1938.
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen
Historical files of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware
BaptistLife Archives; Ron Rogers article