Hidden History: Virginia Women’s Monument will honor more than 400 years of contributions

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Inside a glass case at the Virginia State Capitol, there is a glimpse of a future honoring women of the past.

“It’s going to be inspiring and educational,” says Susan Clarke Schaar, Virginia Senate Clerk.

Schaar has been a member of the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission since its creation in 2010, but recognizing what women have done to cultivate the Commonwealth over more than 400 years has been a decades-long passion project for her.

“I think it’s just compelling to have this story added to the stories, many stories of men who made contributions to Virginia,” Schaar explains.

Adds Colleen Dugan Messick, the Executive Director of the Virginia Capitol Foundation, “It’s really telling a more complete history within our own Capitol Square.”

Messick says the Virginia Women’s Monument, called Voices from the Garden, will include a Wall of Honor listing names of 200 notable Virginia women. Nominations for inclusion are being accepted until May 31, 2017 at this link.

Historians and the Commission selected a dozen women who will be depicted in bronze.

“These statues represent women of different eras throughout the Commonwealth,” says Messick.

They include Jamestown settler, Anne Burras Laydon; Cockacoeske, Chief of Pamunkeys; First Lady Martha Dandridge Custis Washington; Pioneer Mary Draper Ingles; Clementina Bird Rind, Virginia Gazette publisher; Elizabeth Keckley, who experienced triumph over slavery as an entrepreneur; Sally Louisa Tompkins, a Civil War hospital administrator and officer; Maggie L. Walker, the First Woman President of a Bank; Sarah G. Boyd Jones, the first Virginia woman physician to pass state medical boards; Laura Lu Copenhaver, a leader in the religious community and southwestern Virginia who helped her rural farming community through the Depression by establishing Rosemont Industries to sell handicrafts; Estelle Randolph, an education pioneer and leader; Adele Goodman Clark, a suffragist and arts leader.

“Some women we know about, and some women are like unsung heroes in their area,” says Schaar.

She looks to Copenhaver as an example of how this monument will share a story many Virginians have never heard.

“Very few people know about her, but her contributions turned around the economy in that area of Southwest Virginia,” Schaar explains.

In 2013, members of the Commission unanimously selected the monument’s design by StudioEIS of Brooklyn, New York and The 1717 Design Group, Inc. of Richmond. They had received 34 potential designs from firms around the world.

Schaar says this monument will be the first of its kind at any state capitol in the entire country.

While men’s accomplishments are widely represented with statues, women have been largely overlooked, according to Schaar.

“We think this is going to be a very compelling monument,” she says.

An ongoing Legacy Project is raising money for the Virginia Women’s Monument. About $1.4 million is needed to break ground by the end of 2017.

A ‘March to Mother’s Day’ Legacy Project campaign is running through May 14, 2017.

Donors can help complete the monument in exchange for one or more digital certificates from the Virginia Capitol Foundation to honor a woman or women.

For higher-level contributions, the Foundation will hand-write a personal message of a card and send it to a selected women or women and feature their names on a digital wall for the monument.

“I’ve had many young women come up and say, ‘We can’t wait for it to be built because we want to bring our daughter down to see this,'” says Schaar.

After it is completed, the Virginia Women’s Monument will host educational programs for all generations.

“It’s going to spark and nurture a better understanding of history,” says Messick with a smile.

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