Women finally get their own monument
Clementina Rind, mother of five, probably never heard of “breaking the glass ceiling,” “women’s liberation” or feminism, but in 1774 she became the Virginia colony’s public printer, elected by the Virginia General Assembly on a two-to-one vote.
Rind, who had taken over the Virginia Gazette newspaper after her husband died, never missed putting out an issue. And she didn’t blink when she caused a ruckus by publishing A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Thomas Jefferson’s grievances against the excesses of the British parliament and King George III.
Rind is one of 12 Virginia women, most of them little known, to be honored by a new monument opening this month in Richmond’s Capitol Square.
The first monument of its kind, called Voices from the Garden, honors women’s achievements with 12 bronze sculptures of women from four centuries of the state’s history. About 400 other women’s names will be listed on a glass wall surrounding the interactive garden plaza.
The monument has been in the works for almost a decade. Virginia Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar has been devoted to the project since its 2010 inception.
“The more involved I got, the more immersed in it I became,” Schaar said. “It has become my passion. The stories inspire people. It is important to tell these stories and let young people know they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.”
Equality for memorials
Some see Voices from the Garden as a step toward “memorial equality.” Since 1858, Capitol Square has been dominated by the 60-foot equestrian statue of George Washington on a granite pedestal, circled by six men.
Others honored in bronze on Capitol Square include 13 named men, including Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., Civil War General “Stonewall” Jackson and writer Edgar Allan Poe. The Civil Rights Memorial has 18 figures but only one named woman — desegregation heroine Barbara Johns.
Lisa Hicks-Thomas of Dominion Energy, who serves on the Women’s Monument Commission, believes it will help tell Virginia’s whole story.
“So often the stories of the amazing contributions women have made to Virginia and to our country as a whole were left untold or scarcely celebrated. This monument is a step towards rectifying that problem,” Hicks-Thomas said.
Fewer than 8% of public statues recognize women, the Virginia Capitol Foundation’s Executive Director, Colleen Messick, pointed out.
“In the U.S., most statues and memorials of women are fictional characters, naked women or the mother of Jesus,” Messick said, citing a 2017 New York Times article. The Statue of Liberty figure is allegorical, as is the woman on the Virginia seal with one exposed breast.
In 2010, at the request of several women, Senator Walter Stosch of Henrico introduced a resolution in the state legislature calling for a Virginia women’s monument and creating a commission to make it happen. After the legislature approved the resolution, Governor Bob McDonnell issued a proclamation directing the commission to recommend “an appropriate monument” in Capitol Square.
The nonprofit Virginia Capitol Foundation manages the commission and has raised $3.6 million to build the memorial, with $100,000 to go.
An approachable design
Its request for proposals attracted 36 designs, with the winning one coming from Ivan Schwartz of StudioEIS, a Brooklyn-based studio of 10 sculptors, five of whom are women. Each statue cost $200,000.
Voices from the Garden draws people into a granite oval plaza and garden where they can linger among the 12 statues.
While one advocate argued for a “wedding cake-style” monument to equal George Washington’s equestrian monument, most preferred something more approachable and friendly, with women of geographically and ethnically diverse backgrounds. Since the statues will be at eye level, designers hope it will make visitors feel like they are in conversation with historical figures.
The plaza’s oval shape is meant to symbolize collaboration and democracy, akin to the White House’s Oval Office and corporate board tables. A bronze sundial on a granite pedestal is inscribed with a Latin phrase that translates to “While we have time, let us do good.”
The curved glass Wall of Honor around the oval will initially bear the names of 230 women who have “demonstrated notable achievement, made a significant contribution or set an important example within their chosen field of endeavor, their region, or at the state or national level,” according to the monument website.
“The list is intended to represent the many inspiring Virginia women who made contributions or achievements during their lifetimes.” Included so far, for example, are Ella Fitzgerald, Maybelle and Sara Carter, Sally Hemings, Opossunoquonuske, a Powhatan leader, and Marion duPont Scott.
The selection process
In choosing the women to be honored, the Commission’s selection committee worked closely with researchers from the Library of Virginia and experts like Sandra Treadway, the state librarian, a commissioner and women’s history scholar. “We wanted ordinary women doing extraordinary things,” Messick said.
Who are the women in bronze? Among the 12 is Adèle Goodman Clark (1882-1983), a Richmond artist, who helped found the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia; Maggie L. Mitchell Walker (1864-1934), the nation’s first African American bank president, who founded the Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903; and Ann Burras Laydon (1594-1625), one of the two first known women settlers at the Jamestown colony. Laydon survived the Starving Time and a Native American attack in 1622.
Narrowing the choices down to a dozen women was excruciating, Schaar recalled. A few controversies erupted.
Some promoted Pocahontas to represent Native Americans, but Frances Broaddus Crutchfield, an Indian Tribute Commission member, successfully advocated for Cockacoeske, who as a Pamunkey Tribe chief, negotiated a peace treaty with the British and cemented unity among the Powhatan Confederacy. “It is largely because of her efforts that there are still native people living in Virginia today,” Broaddus-Crutchfield said.
One honoree, Sally Louisa Tompkins, a nurse, managed a Civil War hospital for Confederate soldiers in a two-story Richmond house, earning the label “The Angel of the Lost Cause.” According to Encyclopedia Virginia, Confederate President Jefferson Davis commissioned Tompkins a captain, “which allowed her to escape the Medical Department’s purview” and get medical supplies.
Because of its small size and hygiene practices, Tompkins’ hospital had a low mortality rate. Never paid, she was “our Florence Nightingale,” Messick said.
“Women have made significant achievements and contributions, but often they have been known only as the wife or mother of someone,” said Charles H. Seilheimer, Jr., Vice Chairman of the Virginia Capitol Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “It is beyond time to recognize the courageous, innovative, determined and exemplary women of Virginia.”
As Richmond’s powerful new monument, Voices from the Garden will likely inspire many visitors. When several commissioners visited the New York studio to see the statues in progress, “It was a moving experience,” Schaar said. “When I saw the first model of Adèle Clark in the Brooklyn studio, I had tears in my eyes.”
For more information, including how to get a name on the wall and how to donate, visit the website of the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission, womensmonumentcom.virginia.gov.