Women’s History Month

March 7, 2018

March is Women’s History Month. This month commemorates women’s contribution in history and provides an opportunity to share stories previously overlooked. In 1980, President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. By 1987, Congress declared March as Women’s History Month. To this day, Carter’s message to the nation dedicating this month to Women’s History continues to inspire and ring true.

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

Why Celebrate Women’s History

Children need role models of all genders. Further, the telling of history should include the stories of many and be inclusive of people of color and minorities. Learning about the courage, achievements, and contributions made by women inspires children. It also empowers girls and helps them see that anything is possible.

Women are strong leaders. It sends a powerful message to children when they learn that women are innovators, engineers, teachers, freedom-fighters, suffragettes, artists, writers, creators, mathematicians, musicians, journalists, and scientists. Learning the history and stories of women tells a story of resiliency to children and helps them dream and build confidence. It builds respect and self-esteem.

We encourage you to share these stories of Virginian women in history with your children. Storytelling strengthens your relationship with your child and reading about these inspiring women together is sure to awe you both.

 

Virginia Women in History

Cockacoeske (? – 1686)

Cockacoeske was a Native American woman and Weronance (Queen) of the Pamunkey Tribe. She was most well-known for signing the Articles of Peace (the Treaty of Middle Plantation) in 1677 with the English. She requested that several nearby tribes be united under her rule with the signing of this treaty. Cockacoeske aspired to return the power to the tribes that Chief Powhatan (her father’s descendant and father of Pocahontas) had once had. During the 30 years of her reign, Cockacoeske balanced the delicate relationships of the tribes she ruled, while maintaining a diplomatic relationship with the English. This ensured that her people survived. However she was not successful in restoring her tribes to power. She ruled until her death in 1686 and was known as a skilled politician and shrewd leader.

 

Mary Richards Bowser (1846 – ?)

Mary Bowser was born enslaved in 1846. She was a Union spy in the White House of the Confederacy during the Civil War, as well as a teacher. As a child she was owned by the Van Lew family and Elizabeth Van Lew (a Union spy in Richmond) had arranged for Mary to be educated in the North. This ensured Mary’s de facto freedom (Encyclopedia Virginia). Van Lew ran an intelligence ring in which Mary played a key role. Some say that Bowser had a photographic memory and was able to read (unbeknownst to Confederates) important documents and relay the contents to Van Lew. After the end of the Civil War, Mary dedicated the rest of her life to the cause of freedom and teaching newly freed black slaves in Virginia and Florida.

Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker (1864 – 1934)

Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker, Encyclopedia Virginia.

Maggie Walker is best known for being the first woman to establish and be president of a bank (Library of Virginia). She was born two blocks from ChildSavers at Elizabeth Van Lew’s mansion, where her mother worked as an assistant cook. In 1904, she lived in a Jackson Ward in Richmond, a vibrant African American neighborhood. She joined a fraternal organization for African Americans called the Independent Order of Saint Luke in 1881. Rising through the ranks of the Order, because of her the organization became fiscally secure and became its Grand Secretary. With this move, she expanded the Order’s services to include a bank, as well as, a newspaper and department store. Maggie was also a voice for the Civil Rights Movement. She helped to organize a protest against segregated seating in street cars, a policy held by the Virginia Passenger and Power Company. Maggie is honored today in Richmond, you need only visit her home in Jackson Ward (a National Historic Site) or her new monument located on Broad Street and Adams.

Ellen Glasgow (1873 – 1945)

Was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and women’s right advocate. She established the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia in 1909 after an inspiring trip to England. During her life, while living with severe hearing loss, Ellen published 20 novels, many of which were set in the South. In her novels, she grappled with social and political upheaval in Virginia following the Civil War, gender roles, and class conflict. She was an avid reader of literature, history, and philosophy. This influenced her writing deeply and gave her a, “broad perspective on universal human experiences” (Library of Virginia). In addition to a Pulitzer Prize, she was also awarded the Howells Medal of the American Academy of the Arts and Letter.

Christine Mann Darden (1942 – )

Christine Mann Darden. Photo from NASA.

Christine was the first African American woman to become a Senior Executive in Service at NASA (the top rank in the Federal Civil Service). While Christine grew up in North Carolina, she was schooled and worked most of her life in Virginia. Christine studied math at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and earned her Bachelor of Science in 1962. She then went on to earn her Master in Applied Mathematics at Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering at George Washington University in 1983. She did all of this while working full time and raising three daughters. Christine worked for NASA in Hampton, Virginia at Langley Research Center. She developed an innovative computer code to produce low-boom sonic effects during supersonic flight. She later became the director of the Aerospace Performing Center at Langley, overseeing research programs in aeronautics. She spent her final years as director of Langley’s Office of Strategic Communications and Education. You may now know of Christine thanks to the popular book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margo Lee Shetterly. Christine and her colleagues are inspirations for the entire ChildSavers team.

Garbrielle “Gabby” Christinia Victoria Douglas (1995 – )

Gabby Douglas is an Olympic Gymnast born in Virginia Beach. She is, “the first woman of color of any nationality and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion. She is also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the gymnastic individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic games” (GabrielleDouglas.com). When she began her formal training at age six, it took her only two years to become Virginia’s 2004 Gymnastics State Champion. Her nickname is the “Flying Squirrel,” because she can gain extraordinary height mid-air when releasing the uneven bars.