RICHMOND – There was excitement in the air for the hundreds of people who attended the dedication of the new Virginia Women’s Monument on Capitol Square held Monday, Oct. 14. For many in the crowd, the tribute to the extraordinary contributions of women to Virginia’s 400 years of history has been a long time coming and the day didn’t disappoint them or those who have worked so hard to make the project a reality.
The dedication ceremony included remarks by Governor Ralph Northam; Pamela Northam, First Lady of Virginia; the Honorable Mary Margaret Whipple, former State Senator and Vice-Chair of the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission; Senator Ryan McDougle, commission member; the Honorable Susan Clarke Schaar, Clerk of the Virginia Senate and commission member; Ivan Schwartz, Sculptor; Dr. Lauranette Lee, Capitol Preservation Council and Professor of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond and Susan Allen, Chair of the Virginia Capitol Foundation and Former First Lady of Virginia.
Governor Northam, who serves as chair of the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission, said during the dedication that this monument has been long overdue.
“For far too long we have overlooked the transformative contributions of women and other underrepresented groups,” said Northam. “Until recently that has been the case on Capitol Square as well.”
Capitol Square is also home to the Virginia Civil Rights Monument which was dedicated in 2008, and “Mantle,” a monument dedicated to Virginia’s Indian tribes in 2018. The Virginia’s Women’s Monument: Voices from the Garden, which is located outside the west entrance to the Capitol building, has been almost 10 years in the making. The Virginia Women’s Monument Commission was created by the General Assembly in 2010 to “determine and recommend…an appropriate monument in Capitol Square to commemorate the contributions of the women of Virginia.”
The commission worked to develop the design for the monument; vetted the names for the monuments panels and statues and raised almost $4 million from individuals, foundations and corporations to pay for the monument. An additional $125,000 is needed to complete the final five statues that will be added to the monument.
The monument contains the names of 230 outstanding Virginia women etched into glass panels that sit atop a granite base. In front of the panels, seven full size statues were unveiled of various women from Virginia’s diverse history. Girl Scouts from across the Commonwealth helped with the unveiling of the statues as Pamela Northam, Virginia’s First Lady, announced the names of each statue as they were unveiled.
The seven completed statues are Anne Burras Laydon, a Jamestown colonist; Cockacoeske, Pamunkey chieftain; Mary Draper Ingles, a frontierswoman; Elizabeth Keckly, seamstress and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln; Laura Copenhaver, an entrepreneur in the textile industry; Virginia Randolph, an educator; and Adele Clark, suffragist and artist.
Five more statues will be added as they are funded and completed. They include Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, America’s inaugural first lady; Clementina Bird Rind, the first female printer in Virginia; Sally Louisa Tompkins, a hospital administrator; Maggie L. Walker, a civil rights leader and entrepreneur; and Sarah G. Boyd Jones, teacher and physician.
The statues, which each required a $200,000 investment, were sculpted by New York-based Ivan Schwartz, who also crafted the Capitol’s Thomas Jefferson statue.
Before the event began, several current and former state leaders talked about the importance of this historic day.
Pamela Northam, First Lady of Virginia, said she is excited that a monument dedicated specifically to women has been established on the grounds of the Capitol.
“We are so excited to be dedicating this first monument honoring women,” said Northam. “We have the important Civil Rights Monument that includes Barbara Johns, but this is the first dedicated solely to women. As a teacher this is important to me as well. Not only do we recognize our rich and diverse history but look towards the future and empowering our young women and when they visit this monument it will hopefully inspire them to do great things.”
Lynda Johnson Robb, former first lady of Virginia and daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, said she was so proud to see this monument finally become a reality.
“I think we are all proud of the women who are represented here today, both those that are represented as statues and those who are listed on the wall of honor. It’s just very exciting to see this happen. As an important woman once said, ‘Remember the ladies,’ and that is always important,” said Robb.
Former Governor George Allen feels the monument will be a lasting legacy to the women who have contributed to the state’s history and for those who will contribute in the future.
“This is a wonderful dedication ceremony about many women throughout the history of Virginia and diverse times and diverse challenges, who showed great leadership in improving our Commonwealth of Virginia. This will be enduring and educational for generations to come.”
Mary Margaret Whipple, former Virginia Senator and Vice Chairman of the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission said she hopes the monument will show that women from all backgrounds can contribute to the future of the Commonwealth and Nation.
“We are very excited to be dedicating this monument to the achievements of women in Virginia history. One of our goals was to show real women who did real things that led to the achievements of the Commonwealth,” said Whipple. “We are also so pleased with the Wall of Honor that has the names of more than 230 Virginia women who have been nominated as being important to Virginia History. One of the exciting parts of this is that space has been left on the glass panel for names to be added in the future so that young girls can aspire to possibly see their name on the wall someday.”
Susan Clarke Schaar, Clerk of the Virginia Senate, member of the monument commission and Brunswick County native, has played an important role in the establishment of the monument.
“This is such an auspicious occasion for the women of Virginia, to finally have their 400 years of contributions to the Commonwealth and the Nation recognized,” said Schaar. “I am so happy we have two women from Brunswick County included as well.”
Included among the 230 notable women from across Virginia being honored on the monument’s glass panels are two women from Brunswick County, Nellie Pratt Russell and Pattie Buford. They are listed with names such as Martha Washington, Sally Hemmings, Patsy Cline and Ella Fitzgerald.
Russell was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1890 and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Howard University. After college she taught for two years in Topeka, Kansas. To be closer to her mother, she took a teaching job at Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School, later known as Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, where she taught English for over 50 years. In 1913 she married Dr. J. Alvin Russell, the elder son of the school’s founder, James Solomon Russell. In the same year, she and several former classmates at Howard founded and incorporated Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the first established by African-American college women. She was also a civic leader and led women’s organizations in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia.
Russell lived in Lawrenceville for the remainder of her life. She died on December 13, 1979.
Henry P. Russell, Jr. along with his wife, Angela, and John S. Russell, Sr. attended the dedication ceremony and were honored to have their grandmother included on the monument.
“The Virginia Women’s Monument dedication was beautiful. If you’re in the Richmond area, I believe it is a must-see part of Virginia history,” said Henry. “We were very proud to see our grandmother’s name etched into the glass Wall of Honor. It was a very fitting tribute to showcase the wonderful accomplishments and good deeds of these outstanding ladies.”
Buford was born in Brunswick County on March 14, 1836. She was known for her life’s work for the betterment of the lives of freedmen following the Civil War and Reconstruction in Brunswick County and Southside Virginia.
She was also instrumental in helping James Solomon Russell become an Episcopal priest in 1882. Russell eventually started Saint Paul Normal and Industrial School, which later became Saint Paul’s College.
Buford spent over 25 years caring for the African Americans of Brunswick County. She died on January 17, 1901.
The monument also includes a quote by Mary Johnson, a well-known Virginia author in the early twentieth century, engraved in the granite below the Wall of Honor.
“It did not come up in a night, the Woman Movement, and it is in no danger of perishing from view. It is here to stay and grow…It is indestructible, it is moving on with an ever increasing depth and velocity, and it is going to revolutionize the world.” Mary Johnston, 1912