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Stealth Campaigners

The Library of Virginia paints women in Virginia history with detail and color.


"Working Out her Destiny" includes short biographies and a timeline that begins with women in Jamestown and ends with women's efforts in modern politics, education, labor and war. It describes the often quiet campaigns women led as reformers, teachers, artists and civic leaders. And the vehicles by which these women operated are often as interesting as their accomplishments.

Many of these women could only accomplish their goals by operating within the system. No power-mongering is evident, just plenty of guts and clever sidestepping. Ethel Madison Bailey Furman, Virginia's first practicing African-American woman architect, could only gain approval from building officials by having male contractors submit her drawings to authorities.

A striking tale of crafty intelligence and courage is told by a petition 62 white "females of the County of Augusta" submitted to the Virginia General Assembly in 1832. In the wake of Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, the Assembly feared that violence could erupt again at any moment. In their petition, the women acknowledged that they were unworthy and at the same time compelled to voice their disapproval of slavery. They argued that the unhappy slaves should be justly relocated, that they themselves were not afraid of hard work and could certainly learn to live without slaves.

"Working Out Her Destiny" is a big picture told with little stories that have momentum. One wonders who the young female campaigners are these days in Virginia, and how they are getting things done. If only the Virginia Company, which sent 250 young English women to the colony between 1619 and 1621 "to tye and root the planters myndes to Virginia by the bonds of wives and children," knew what they were starting. S

"Working Out Her Destiny; Women's History in Virginia" is on display at The Library of Virginia through March 26, 2005.

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