Downtown Baltimore, at about the time of Agnew's birth in 1918
Spiro Agnew's father was born Theophrastos Anagnostopoulos in about 1877, in the Greek town of Gargalianoi. The family may have been involved in olive growing and been impoverished during a crisis in the industry in the 1890s. Anagnostopoulos emigrated to the United States in 1897 (some accounts say 1902) and settled in Schenectady, New York, where he changed his name to Theodore Agnew and opened a diner. A passionate self-educator, Agnew maintained a lifelong interest in philosophy; one family member recalled that "if he wasn't reading something to improve his mind, he wouldn't read." Around 1908, he moved to Baltimore, where he purchased a restaurant. Here he met William Pollard, who was the city's federal meat inspector. The two became friends; Pollard and his wife Margaret were regular customers of the restaurant. After Pollard died in April 1917, Agnew and Margaret Pollard began a courtship which led to their marriage on December 12, 1917. Spiro Agnew was born 11 months later, on November 9, 1918.
Margaret Pollard, born Margaret Marian Akers in Bristol, Virginia, in 1883, was the youngest in a family of 10 children. As a young adult she moved to Washington, D.C., and found employment in various government offices before marrying Pollard and moving to Baltimore. The Pollards had one son, Roy, who was 10 years old when Pollard died. After the marriage to Agnew in 1917 and Spiro's birth the following year, the new family settled in a small apartment at 226 West Madison Street, near downtown Baltimore.
Childhood, education and early career
In accordance with his mother's wishes, the infant Spiro was baptized as an Episcopalian, rather than into the Greek Orthodox Church of his father. Nevertheless, Agnew senior was the dominant figure within the family, and a strong influence on his son. When in 1969, after his Vice Presidential inauguration, Baltimore's Greek community endowed a scholarship in Theodore Agnew's name, Spiro Agnew told the gathering: "I am proud to say that I grew up in the light of my father. My beliefs are his."
During the early 1920s, the Agnews prospered. Theodore acquired a larger restaurant, the Piccadilly, and moved the family to a house in the Forest Park northwest section of the city, where Spiro attended Garrison Junior High School and later Forest Park High School. This period of affluence ended with the crash of 1929, and the restaurant closed. In 1931 the family's savings were wiped out when a local bank failed, forcing them to sell the house and move to a small apartment. Agnew later recalled how his father responded to these misfortunes: "He just shrugged it off and went to work with his hands without complaint." Theodore Agnew sold fruit and vegetables from a roadside stall, while the youthful Spiro helped the family's budget with part-time jobs, delivering groceries and distributing leaflets. As he grew up, Spiro was increasingly influenced by his peers, and began to distance himself from his Greek background. He refused his father's offer to pay for Greek language lessons, and preferred to be known by a nickname, "Ted".
In February 1937, Agnew entered The Johns Hopkins University at their new Homewood campus in north Baltimore as a chemistry major. After the first few months, he found the pressure of the academic work increasingly stressful, and was distracted by the family's continuing financial problems and worries about the international situation, in which war seemed likely. In 1939 he decided that his future lay in law rather than chemistry, left Johns Hopkins and began night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law. To support himself, he took a day job as an insurance clerk with the Maryland Casualty Company at their "Rotunda" building on 40th Street in Roland Park.
During the three years Agnew spent at the company he rose to the position of assistant underwriter. At the office, he met a young filing clerk, Elinor Judefind, known as "Judy". She had grown up in the same part of the city as Agnew, but the two had not previously met. They began dating, became engaged, and were married in Baltimore on May 27, 1942. They had four children.