Virginia Gentlewomen

Blue Ridge Mountains
Blue Ridge Mountains

As a native Virginian, a graduate of the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science and a member of that School's Board of Trustees, I have the opportunity to visit the Commonwealth on occasion. My last visit triggered thoughts about the historical women with ties to Virginia who changed America. Match the following women with her accomplishment:

____ 1. The first woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for her medical services during the Civil War.

____ 2. A hostess extraordinaire in Washington, this First Lady is famously known for saving paintings and documents when the White House was burned during the War of 1812.

____ 3. The first black woman and youngest person to be named Poet Laureate of the United States.

____ 4. The daughter of a free white man and an enslaved black woman, she sued for her freedom. Through petition, her case was sent to the Virginia General Assembly and she was freed in 1656.

____ 5. The founder and owner of the first bank for African-Americans in the country; established in Richmond, Virginia in 1903.

A. Elizabeth Key
B. Dolley Madison
C. Mary Edwards Walker
D. Maggie Lena Walker
E. Rita Dove

In 1655, Elizabeth Key, the daughter of a free white man and an enslaved black woman, sued for her freedom as well as freedom for her son, John. The daughter of a planter who was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, she was fortunate that the law at the time said that children inherited the status of the father. Further in her favor was the indenture her father had arranged whereby she was to be freed at age 15 as well as the fact that she had been baptized. Court decisions had been split so the matter was referred to the Virginia General Assembly. The decision of that body, in 1656, was that she should be freed. Later laws negated many of the precedents sent in the Elizabeth Key case, some of which were not overturned until the twentieth century.

First Lady Dolley Madison is famously known for having rescued paintings and documents from a burning White House during the War of 1812. Madison served as a hostess extraordinaire during the presidential administration of her husband (James Madison) as well as during the administration of Thomas Jefferson, before him. After the presidential term was completed, the Madisons retired to their home at Montpelier (in Virginia), where she continued to entertain and assist him with the compilation of his papers.

The only woman to have ever received the Congressional Medal of Honor, Mary Edwards Walker graduated from medial school in 1855. Originally in private practice, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Walker volunteered as a nurse and later served as a surgeon in Virginia. She was imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia, and later exchanged for a Confederate soldier. Honored for her medical services during the Civil War, Walker has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Businesswoman and community leader, Maggie Lena Walker was the first African-American woman to found a bank. In 1903, she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, who clientele was African-American. She served as chair of the board when the bank merged with two other Richmond banks to become Consolidated Bank & Trust, which continued in operation until 2009. Walker was very active in the community and in women's organizations in Richmond, Virginia.

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Rita Dove was the first black woman and the youngest person to be named Poet Laureate of the United States (1993). The recipient of 25 honorary degrees and numerous awards and honors, Dove is the only poet to date to have received both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts. She is the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. All of these Virginia Gentlewomen are profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We applaud their accomplishments and are proud to stand on their shoulders.

(answers: 1-C, 2-B, 3-E, 4-A, 5-D)