Lesser-known Virginia Women for Women’s History Month

As Women’s History Month approaches, teachers begin thinking about what notable women they can introduce to their students. Here are some of the less touted Virginia women your students should know.

Prolific author Willa Cather was born near Winchester and lived there for her first nine years. Her last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), told the story of an enslaved woman’s escape from the Shenandoah Valley before the Civil War. You can learn more about her Virginia childhood with this clip from American Masters.

Current Virginia resident and Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, Nikki Giovanni’s activism for civil rights is reflected in her poetry. Her poem, “Ego Tripping”, celebrates being black and female. You can hear it performed in this Words Like Freedom segment which explores the historic struggle of black people in America for freedom and equality while celebrating the African-American legacy of the spoken word.  

Social reformer Lila Meade Valentine formed the Richmond Education Association to improve the city’s public schools, helped organize and secure funding for the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association to provide health care services to the poor, and cofounded and presided over the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. She traveled across the state campaigning for suffrage and speaking out against those who feared that woman suffrage threatened traditional gender roles and racial voting restrictions. Speaking before a legislative committee in 1912, Valentine informed delegates that “we do not conceive that we have freedom without the ballot.” Trace the steps of Valentine and others of their fight for suffrage in Virginia to America: Suffragists in Virginia History.

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