Voices From the Garden

            Seven statues of women who’ve shaped the Commonwealth of Virginia have been unveiled in October 2109 in Capital Square, Richmond, VA. There are also names of 230 other women of influence etched along the walls of the exhibit. Five more statues are in the works.

            This has been an on-going project that focused on collectively recognizing the voices of women who’ve not been given their due in mainstream America. These women, from the past 400 years, have been for the most part, overlooked. While many have been given a line or two in a few history books, it’s not enough. We need to amplify their voice. From all walks of life these are extraordinary women who’ve risen above stereotypes, prejudices, injustice, poverty, race and sexual discrimination, adversity and apathy to break barriers and smash glass ceilings. Their accomplishments are numerous, vast and impressive.

        The women exhibited haven’t been placed on a pedestal, riding a horse, or carrying a weapon; this way visitors can look them in the eye. Take a good look. These are the women whose shoulders we’ve been standing on for four hundred years. Listen to their narratives. It’s time to bring real women to the table. And what an amazing table it is.

            The Seven:

  1. Ann Burras Laydon (1595-?). Jamestown colonist. Records indicate she left England as an unmarried woman and arrived in Jamestown in 1608. She soon married and bore four daughters. Her oldest daughter was the first recoded child to be born of English parents. Ann was a homesteader and early member of what is now considered to be the first American settlement. She survived an Indian attack, when survival rates were low.
  2. Cockacoeske (1656-1686): Pamunkey Chieftain. Cocoacoeske was a Native American woman who was called “Queen” by the settlers when her husband died. She’s best known for signing the Articles of Peace, also referred to as the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677. She maintained a diplomatic relationship with other tribes, a feat which was difficult for most other tribal leaders to accomplish.
  3. Mary Draper Ingles (1732-1815): Frontierswoman. Mary was another early settler, who after surviving a capture by the Shawnee, escaped, and then found safe passage 600 miles home She went on to create Ingles Ferry with her husband. Mary was the subject of books, plays and movies (see the “Long Way Home” and “The Captives: Follow the River”).
  4. Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907): Seamstress. Elizabeth was born a free black woman to parents who had once been enslaved. She was a seamstress as well as an author. In 1868 she wrote, “Behind the Scenes or 30 Years a Slave” also known as “From Slavery to the White House.” You see, Elizabeth became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidant. Her memoir was considered scandalous at that time.  
  5. Laura Copenhaver (1868-1949). Textile entrepreneur. The daughter of a minister and the wife of a school administrator, Laura found her niche in writing, civic work and cooperative marketing. She started a business in her house where woman made hand-made blankets. Soon the demand for her product was so high she had to move into a factory. Rosemont, a textile industry, was then born, which is still in operation today (mainly bed linens).
  6. Virginia Randolph (1874-1958): Educator. Virginia was an African American woman who was born to previously enslaved parents in Richmond, VA. She was considered to be a pioneer in the area of industrial arts. Virginia believed that students learned better by doing. She taught classes like woodworking, sewing, gardening, and home design. She was the recipient of an award that allowed black rural schools to include the manual arts in their curriculum.
  7. Adele Clark (1882-1983): Suffragette. Adele was a founding member of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia as well as an artist and art advocate. She fought to have the Nineteenth Amendment ratified, which didn’t happen in Virginia until 1957. Nonetheless, she worked tirelessly for women’s rights until the day she died. As an artist, her work has graced showrooms and private residences. Her lovely painting, “Sledding” reminds me of the lithographs found in the Currie & Ives printmakers book, one of childhood favorites.

 

Collectively, these women rock. I applaud the state of Virginia for stepping up to the plate and creating such a visual display of the accomplishments of women. Day by day, year in and year out, across decades, and centuries, these women worked to make their community a better place to live, often without notice or reward.  In doing so, they made the state fuller and richer. The country benefited too. They are true monuments of the matriarchy. But these woman are no different than most of us reading this site. Just like the statues, we come from all walks of life and bring a different set of skill sets. But if we put our collective heads together, we can build a better world. One statue at a time.

 

                                           I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.” A. Frank

 

            Anne Frank’s diary is a world treasure. Despite being only thirteen-years old when she took pen to paper, her words resonate with people of all ages, in all parts of the universe. She deserves to be memorialized in stone and placed on a pedestal. While she’s honored in many historic landmarks, this blog will focus on two of the more popular.

            Erected in Founder’s Park Plaza at the National WW11 Museum in New Orleans sits a life-sized statue of Anne. Sculpted by Studio EIS, Anne is depicted holding her diary to her chest with both hands. A direct quote from her diary is nearby, “Someday this terrible way will be over. Surely the time will come when we are people again, and not just Jews.”

            Imagine being in Anne’s shoes. She was a girl, on the brink of adolescence, when  suddenly she’s forced to hide in two small rooms, hidden behind a bookcase, and shut off from the life she once knew. No television, no communication with the outside world, no music. Just a few books and a measly stack of paper and pencils, and the cramped company of seven other people, some of whom she didn’t get along with, even in the best of times. But Anne had hutzpah and made the most of it -by looking out onto a horse-chestnut tree – and by starting a diary, which she called a “strange experience.” She wrote even though she was sure “no one will ever be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old-girl.” But that didn’t stop her moxie from pouring out onto the page. “Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.” I’m glad she felt propelled to write in a diary. Otherwise we never would’ve known about this brave girl. Bravery gets noticed. In Anne’s case, her strength of character was memorialized in bronze, which allowed her to take her place among the other impressive monuments of the matriarchy.  

            Still, being the face of humanity has its downsides. A monument of Anne known as the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, that resides at the Wassmuth Rights Center, was defaced in Dec. 2020 with swastikas and the harrowing words “We are everywhere.” Also tarnished was the freedom spiral.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time the complex was branded with graffiti of Anti-Semitic messages and racial slurs. A question asked by the media was, “Is this what we’re becoming?”

            When Anne was alive she’d seen more trouble than most of us. Did she need to be victimized, even in death? After her capture by the Gestapo, she spent twenty months in captivity, only to be turned into the authorities by an anonymous informant, who is said to have been an employee of her father’s. Sadly, Anne didn’t last long at Auschwitz. She died of starvation and dehydration, weeks before the concentration camp was liberated. Her diary was found in the annex by a family friend. I’m not sure if you know this but the authenticity of the diary was questioned. Surely, the naysayers speculated, an older, more erudite person wrote it. I, for one, believe it’s the real deal. When faced with death, I bet our pens are freed from the confines of the page and we speak the truth. Verse after verse is wrangled free and without a censor and judge, the words touch detach themselves from the core our souls. As Anne said, “I continue to sit with the open book in my hand and wonder why I was filled with so much anger and hate that I had to confide it all to you.”

            But Anne lives on, in her journals and statues How will you live on? Have you accomplished anything that is statue worthy? I know I haven’t, at least not yet. But I’m not going to give up on myself.         

         Rise up ladies. Do something great. Be heard. Write your hearts out. The world needs more women of courage. I imagine a future where there are millions of brave women dotting our landscape. Now that’s a beautiful sight.