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Women attorneys saluted as part of Virginia’s history

Virginia Women’s Monument unveiled on Capitol Square

womens-monument_mainThe Virginia Women’s Monument will be unveiled today, Oct. 14, with the first seven of 12 bronze statues depicting women throughout the state’s history. This tribute is the nation’s first monument created to showcase the women “who made significant, but often unrecognized, contributions in a variety of fields and endeavors over the 400-year history of Virginia,” according to a press release.

In addition to the bronze statues, the monument features a glass “Wall of Honor” inscribed with the names of 230 women who helped shape the story of the commonwealth.

Six of those names belong to women who were among the first female attorneys in Virginia.

“Those six women helped pave the way for me and others in this field to do what we do without having to worry about whether we’ll be allowed to simply because we’re women,” said Jacqueline Hedblom, assistant attorney general and a member of the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission.

Facts about the Virginia Women’s Monument

  • There are 230 names of Virginia women inscribed on the Wall of Honor.
  • Each statue required a financial investment of $200,000 in order to proceed to the sculpting phase.
  • The bronze statues were sculpted by StudioEIS in Brooklyn, New York.
  • For a name to be on the Wall of Honor, an honoree has to have been deceased at least 10 years. Em Bowles Locker Alsop, who died in 2015, is the one exception.
  • Space has been reserved for the names of more outstanding women to be added to the Wall of Honor in the future.

The idea for the Virginia Women’s Monument came about more than 10 years ago. In the summer of 2009, Richmond resident Em Bowles Locker Alsop, who was 94 at the time, and a group of friends approached Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, and requested his sponsorship to erect a monument to Virginia women in Capitol Square.

The “monument resolution” was approved by the 2010 General Assembly, and the Virginia Women’s Monument Commission was formed.

“As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure that women’s stories are embedded into the narrative of Virginia history,” said Mary Margaret Whipple, vice chair of the commission. “The Virginia Women’s Monument will provide a unique opportunity to explore and experience the powerful role that these female trailblazers played in the past, serving as an inspiration for current and future generations to find their own voice.”

Once a design was finalized, the commission organized focus groups to help get a sense of what message the monument should convey. Overall, the public determined not to portray statues of women who were “allegorical or representative,” said Sandra Treadway, librarian of Virginia and a member of the commission.

Timeline

July 8, 2009: Richmond resident Em Bowles Locker Alsop approached Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, requesting his sponsorship to erect a monument to Virginia women in Capitol Square. She was 94 at the time.

March 8, 2010: The “Monument Resolution” was passed by the General Assembly and the Richmond committee, Friends of Virginia History, was formed.

March 3, 2015: Alsop, whom Stosch noted as the “driving force behind the monument effort,” died.

October 2018: The granite plaza and the Wall of Honor were unveiled on Capitol Square.

October 14, 2019: A formal dedication of the Virginia Women’s Monument will take place on Capitol Square.

“For example, don’t just put a pioneer woman up there,” Treadway said. “They asked us to make [the monument] about women with real stories so that all of us, but particularly young people, can learn about them.”

The first four statues of Virginia women were commissioned last year; three more will be unveiled at the dedication on Monday.

Treadway said it is her secret hope that this monument will help make it impossible to write a history of Virginia without giving women their due.

“It was really exciting to see members of the commission learn about these women and ask, ‘How have I never heard of this person before?’” Treadway said. “That is one of the most important things that can come out of this. We think this monument can help spark that curiosity.”

The granite plaza and the Wall of Honor were unveiled in October 2018, and funding for the last five statues is underway. Additionally, a large amount of space has been reserved on the wall for names of more Virginia women to be added in the future.

Two quotations inscribed on the granite wall of the monument

“We ask of our rulers, at this hour, no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice, we ask equality, ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever. ”
– National Woman Suffrage Association, Declaration of the Rights of the Women of the United States, July 4th, 1876.

“I did not come up in a night, the Woman Movement, and it is in no danger of perishing from view. It is here to stay and grow. . . . It is indestructible, it is moving on with an ever-increasing depth and velocity, and it is going to revolutionize the world.”
– Mary Johnston, Pamphlets in Favor of Women Suffrage, 1912.

To have a name inscribed on the wall, an honoree must have been deceased for at least 10 years – with one exception. Alsop, who died in 2015, is featured on the Wall of Honor.

“Those of us who are benefiting from the difficult paths carved before us have an obligation to then continue helping and paving the way for those who come after us,” Hedblom said. “I think this monument is an important reminder for that.”

For more information on the Virginia Women’s Monument, visit http://womensmonumentcom.virginia.gov/index.html.

The six women attorneys named on the Wall of Honor are:

Elizabeth Nelson Tompkins (1899-1981)

Born in Albemarle County, Elizabeth Tompkins was one of the first women admitted to the University of Virginia law school. She graduated in 1923. In a 1980 interview with Virginia Law Weekly, the U.Va. law school newspaper, Tompkins said, “It took them one semester to find out that I was not after a husband and another semester to find out that I could do the work. After that everything was fine.”

Tompkins was also one of the first women to be admitted to the Virginia State Bar. She began practicing law in 1925 and later served as commissioner of accounts for Hanover County and commissioner in chancery for circuit courts in Hanover and Richmond. She was awarded an honorary law degree from the University of Richmond in 1970.

Bertha Louise Douglass (1895-1980)

Bertha Douglass began her law career in 1917, working as a stenographer for John Eugene Diggs, one of Norfolk’s most prominent African American attorneys. She became a notary public in 1919 and three years later, while reading law in Diggs’s office, enrolled in the American Correspondence School of Law in Chicago. After five attempts, Douglass passed the bar examination in 1926, just six years after Virginia allowed women to start practicing law. This made Douglass the second African American woman admitted to practice law in Virginia.

Douglass returned to Norfolk and specialized in civil law. In the 1930s, Douglass was elected president of the Norfolk County Bar Association. From 1940-1942 she served as Virginia vice president of the National Association of Women Lawyers and in 1946 she sat on the executive committee of the Old Dominion Bar Association. Douglass opened her own practice in 1949 and retired in the late 1970s.

Odessa Pittard Bailey (1906–1994)

Born in Roanoke, Odessa Bailey worked in the office of the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia for 20 years. She studied law in her spare time and was admitted to the bar in 1934. She left the U.S. attorney’s office in 1944 and became a judge of the Roanoke Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, making Bailey the first woman in Virginia’s history to hold a judicial post higher than justice of the peace or court trial justice.

After her term on the bench ended in 1948, Bailey continued a career in social work. She served on several state commissions, including a state commission on sex offenses and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped. In 1950 she served as president of the Virginia Conference of Social Work and was a member of many organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Virginia Society for Crippled Children and Adults and the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

Rebecca Pearl Greenberg Lovenstein (1888 – 1971)

Rebecca Lovenstein was the first woman admitted to practice law in Virginia. Born in Vilna, Russia, she began seeking a legal education in 1917. However, law schools were closed to women in Virginia at the time. As a result, Lovenstein fought for a statutory change to Virginia law to require a change in the state bar admission statutes, which passed in 1920. Lovenstein  took the oath in Richmond on June 28 of that year. She was the third Jewish woman to open a state bar for women.

Lovenstein later started a law practice in her basement with her husband, Benjamin. But he developed a kidney condition in 1923, forcing her to take over the office until his death in 1956.

Lavinia Fleming Poe (1890-1974)

Born in Warwick County, Lavinia Poe began her legal career in Newport News as a stenographer for E.C. Brown, an African American banker, notary and real estate agent. In 1920, Poe worked briefly for attorney J. Thomas Newport; it was this experience that convinced her she wanted to attend law school. However, the three Virginia law schools – Washington & Lee University, the University of Virginia and the University of Richmond – did not accept African American applicants.

Instead, she moved to Washington, D.C. and studied at Howard University. Poe graduated in 1925 and passed the bar a year later, making her the first African American woman lawyer in Virginia. In the 1940s she served as secretary of the Old Dominion Bar Association and had a brief stint as assistant secretary of the National Bar Association. In the 1960s she served as the Virginia delegate to the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams (1874–1957)

Born in Dublin, Ireland, suffragist and activist Pauline Adams moved to Virginia when she married Norfolk physician Walter J. Adams in 1898. She was the first president of the Norfolk league, a National American Woman Suffrage Association affiliate. She later joined the National Woman’s Party, for which she served as president from 1917 to 1920. On Sept. 4, 1917, Adams was one of 13 picketers arrested for “flaunting their banners” in front of the then-President Woodrow Wilson’s reviewing stand before a Selective Service parade. When given a choice between 60 days in jail or a $25 fine, the suffragists as a whole chose prison and were sent to the workhouse at Occoquan in Fairfax County.

Adams passed the bar in 1921 and became the second woman to practice law in Norfolk. She worked as an attorney and for the campaign of Sarah Lee Fain, one of the first two women elected to the House of Delegates.

Research provided by Sandra Treadway at the Library of Virginia.