By Susan Shibut
The nation’s first monument created to showcase remarkable women of Virginia now stands on Capitol Square.
Hundreds watched the unveiling Monday of “The Virginia Women’s Monument,” which features seven statues honoring women from different parts of the commonwealth.
Mary Margaret Whipple, vice chair of the Women’s Monument Commission, said the monument embodies the goals of the commission to honor real women in a way that is not mythic or symbolic. The Virginia General Assembly established the commission to determine and recommend an appropriate women’s monument for Capitol Square in 2010.
“These women rose to the occasion and made significant achievements,” Whipple said. “They were from all walks of life. From different times and places. They were famous and obscure. Real women. Even imperfect women. Who have shaped the history of this commonwealth.”
Clerk of the Senate Susan Clarke Schaar spoke about the decade-long process for the design and realization of the monument. She worked with professors and historians to design the structure.
“No pedestals, no weapons, no horses,” Schaar said. “They wanted it to be approachable. They wanted it to be warm and welcoming. And they wanted to convey a sense of consensus building. And they wanted young women and young men to know that they could do anything they wanted to do with their lives.”
Gov. Ralph Northam said the monument is 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 Memorial, opened in 2008, and “Mantle,” a monument dedicated to Virginia’s Indian tribes in 2018.
Artist Kehinde Wiley last month in Times Square unveiled “Rumors of War,” a statue of a young African American man on a horse in a pose modeled after Confederate monuments. The statue will be permanently moved to the entrance of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Arthur Ashe Boulevard in December.
2019 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America. It also marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving in Virginia.
Sen. Ryan McDougle, a Republican running for reelection in the 4th District, brought his daughter Reagan on stage with him. He said the monument was about inspiring the accomplishments of women yet to come.
“It’s about Reagan, and all the girls here today, and all the girls that will come; whether they have those role models in their families or not, they will be able to see that women that have come before them have achieved tremendous things,” McDougle said.
When the monument is completed it will feature a dozen bronze statues on a granite plaza and an etched glass Wall of Honor inscribed with 230 names of notable Virginian women and room for more. For a future honoree to qualify for the wall, she must be a native Virginian or have lived mostly in Virginia and must be deceased for at least 10 years.
The granite wall features a quote excerpted from a 1912 address that Mary Johnston, a 20th century Virginian author, made to an all-male Richmond conference of state governors:
“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.”
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 Adèle Clark, suffragist and artist.
Five more statues will be added as they are funded and completed — 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.
Schwartz spoke about the lack of statues to, for, or about women. According to the Washington Post, of the estimated 5,193 public statues depicting historic figures on display on street corners and parks throughout the United States, 394 are of women.
“Women have been excised from the marble pedestal of history,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz has recently worked on other sculptures of notable women around the country. He mentioned projects highlighting Susan B. Anthony, Anne Frank and Harriet Tubman.
“I still make sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington,” Schwartz said. “I don’t turn my back on these good gentlemen. But their gentlemen’s club, which has occupied our national living room, our nation’s public spaces, has at last started to admit women, African Americans and Native Americans.”
Girl Scouts unveiled the structures, pulling back a blue cloth as the name of each statue was announced by Susan Allen, chair of the Virginia Capitol Foundation and former first lady of Virginia. The Girl Scouts represented councils from the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Skyline and the Colonial Coast.
Allen gave closing remarks, calling the occasion “a monumental day.”
“Let us recognize our diverse past, and those on whose shoulders we stand so proudly today and be inspired to work on for a better future for our daughters and the young leaders of tomorrow like these lovely young women here today,” Allen said.
Businesses Unite to Bring Change to Monument Avenue
“We believe inclusion is integral to the strength of our organizations, and that symbols antithetical to equality, equity, and unity harm our employees and community.”
The Monument Commitment is a pledge by Richmond employers to work for change not only along Monument Avenue but in the community.
RVAHub is proud to stand with the businesses below.
If you would like to learn how to add your organization to this commitment email: [email protected]
The pledge reads:
Governor Northam, Mayor Stoney, City Council Members:
We are employers of the Richmond community.
We believe inclusion is integral to the strength of our organizations, and that symbols antithetical to equality, equity, and unity harm our employees and community.
We ask that you commit to support the respectful removal of all the confederate monuments on Monument Avenue in coming months, and do not repair – other than for public safety – the monuments as they currently stand.
For our part, we commit to confronting racism in our organizations and supporting you in eradicating systemic racism in our community.
It is time to take them all down.
Please note we created this post on Friday morning and since businesses are being added constantly some businesses might not be on the list above. This is not a statement against those businesses just an inability to keep up. This link will give you the most current list of those that have made the commitment.
Wayback RVA — Old Pythian Hall and Mechanics Savings Bank
A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.
The Old Pythian Hall and Mechanics
Savings Bank, Mr. Jno. Mitchell Jr., Pres.
- Souvenir Views Negro Enterprises and Residences, Richmond, Va. D. A. Ferguson & Co. 1907.
- Richmond Planet masthead.
- Logo, Order of the Knights of Pythias.
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 3.
- [RTD] John Mitchell Jr. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Michael Paul Williams February 21, 1996.
- 311 North Fourth Street.
John Mitchell Jr. was aptly described as “a man who would walk into the jaws of death to serve his race.” Mitchell – newspaper editor, entrepreneur, city councilman and candidate for governor – was one of the most respected black leaders of his day. [RTD]
A fascinating individual. The Shockoe Examiner has an interesting post from 2012 about Mitchell’s grave in Evergreen Cemetery. Alas for the old bank building, it’s former location now rests under the Richmond Convention Center.
(Old Pythian Hall and Mechanics Savings Bank is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
Black Bear’s Visit to Richmond Comes to a Safe End
No picnic baskets, bears, dogs, cats, or humans were harmed in today’s adventure.
A black bear decided to explore Richmond today. First spotted on the Northbank Trail he later headed into town. Previous reports earlier in the week had the bear up near Pony Pasture. The picture above is from RACC Instagram which reported on the sedation and transportation of the bear.
We just received a call about a bear-and it really was a bear. Sometimes we laugh and arrive on scene with a giant Rottweiler, but nope-this was a real bear. We named him Fuzzy Wuzzy. Shout out to @richmondpolice for helping keep us safe and to @virginiawildlife for tranquilizing and relocating the bear out of the City!
Here he is in town.