March may come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but between those bookends sits Women’s History Month looking for its due.
Having started back in 1978 in Sonoma, Ca. as a week-long celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history and society, the idea quickly caught on around the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter designated the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. However, it wasn’t until seven years later that the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the celebration to an entire month, as if a month – much less a week – could begin to cover the significant and often overlooked contributions made by women.
In 2022, many Richmond cultural institutions still provide no special programming around Women’s History Month. Fortunately, some do. Here’s a round up of what’s happening this year:
The Virginia Museum of History and Culture presents a live streaming of Gayle Jessup White’s lecture on her book “Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy.” White grew up in Black middle-class Washington, D.C., and was 13 when she first heard the family lore. Fueled by personal loss and professional angst, she devoted herself to uncovering the truth, a commitment that ultimately led her to Monticello, where she became the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s first community engagement officer. “Reclamation” explores race, class, and redemption in a country that continues to struggle with our complicated and painful origins. Significantly, she’s the first descendant of Jefferson and the families he enslaved to be employed by the Foundation. The event will be live streamed on Facebook and YouTube. Virginia Museum of History and Culture, March 10, 6 p.m., vahistory.org
Maymont is honoring Women’s History Month with a staged conversation, The Vote. Just over a hundred years ago, the question of women’s right to vote was hotly contested, even among leading women of the day. As is still the case today, women were divided by issues of race and economic class. The presentation allows attendees to hear the arguments on all sides of the women’s suffrage debate by featuring a dramatized fictional conversation among four influential Richmond women: society maven and philanthropist, Sallie May Dooley; her niece Nora Houston, an artist, educator and prominent activist; Ora Brown Stokes Perry, a community organize and Black suffragist; and Maggie L. Walker, the pioneering banker and businesswoman.
After the conversation, there will be a panel discussion on the history of the women’s suffrage movement, hosted by Maymont’s Manager of Historical Education, Lucretia Anderson. The program will be pre-recorded and streamed online in real-time to allow for discussion. Advance registration is required by March 24. Maymont, March 25, 2 p.m., maymont.org
The Virginia Museum of History and Culture presents Shaleigh Howells of the Pamunkey Indian Museum & Cultural Center in conversation about “Tidewater: A Novel.” The book imagines the period in 1607 when three ships arrived on the coast of Virginia to establish Jamestown Colony and their only hope of survival rested on the Powhatan tribe. During this struggle, Pocahontas, the daughter of the great chief, forged an unlikely friendship with Smith. While their bond initiated a wary peace, each sought to fulfill their own ambitions and their delicate truce began to dissolve. The story looks at how once the colonists and Powhatans were locked in battle, Pocahontas had to choose between self and sacrifice for the sake of her people and their land. The program is virtual and free, but registration is required. Virginia Museum of History and Culture, March 29,7 p.m., vahistory.org
Women’s History Month is a great time to check out the Library of Virginia’s fascinating “Virginia Women in History Digital Trails” website. The trail of sites pays tribute to historic women such as Mildred Loving, suffragist Pauline Adams and Appamattuck female chief Opossunoquonuske, one of the first Indian leaders met by the English in 1607. Best of all, you can visit virtually or in person all the sites associated with history-making women across the state. The regional trails are available through Clio, a free mobile app that guides users to historic sites around Virginia. Whether you’re traveling in Hampton Roads, southwestern Virginia or along Route 58, there are important Virginia women who made a difference along the way.
Note: Although it doesn’t fall within March, the Library of Virginia is presenting a talk by author and journalist Kristen Green. In “The Devil’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail,” Green draws on years of research to tell the little-known story of young Mary Lumpkin, an enslaved woman who blazed a path of liberation for thousands. Forced to have the children of a brutal slave trader, she had to live on the premises of his slave jail known as the “Devil’s Half Acre.” When she inherited the jail after his death, she transformed it into “God’s Half Acre,” a school where Black men could fulfill their dreams. It still exists today as Virginia Union University, one of the first Historically Black Colleges. A book signing will follow the talk, which is being offered as both an in-person event and livestreamed on the Library’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Free, but registration required. Library of Virginia, April 14, 6 p.m., lva.virginia.gov