“C’ville is awash with monuments. Why no statues to women besides a cowering Sacajawea (who happened to be pregnant but still led the white guys through the wilderness)?” – Donna Lucey
“We do have three statues of women, you know,” says former mayor Virginia Daugherty, her soft Southern voice a bit sly. She’s referring to Sacagawea, crouching at the foot of Lewis and Clark on West Main Street; an angel at the foot of the Jackson statue; and the head of an anonymous woman that appears, along with a man’s, on an abstract statue called “Family” in front of the old jail.
That’s what passes for female representation in Charlottesville’s dozens of monuments, from Homer and multiple likenesses of Thomas Jefferson scattered across Grounds at the University of Virginia, past explorers George Rogers Clark on University Avenue and Lewis and Clark on West Main, and over to the most prominent statues in town: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Johnny Reb.
“When you look around, you just think it’s not right, the way that it is,” says Daugherty.
So why hasn’t the city, which is 51.6 percent female, honored any women?
In part, this is a national problem. “Statues of women never get names,” notes journalist Kriston Capps in a CityLab story called “The Gender Gap in Public Sculpture.” “They’re archetypes, symbols, muses, forces.” Of the hundreds of statues in New York City and Washington, D.C., he writes, each city has just five statues that depict historic women. “There are 22 statues of men in Central Park alone, but not one (non-fictional) woman.”
The explanation has to do with who, historically, has commissioned the building of monuments, and for what reasons.
In Charlottesville, the story we tell through our most prominent public monuments was largely written by one man: Paul Goodloe McIntire. As a 5-year-old boy, McIntire reputedly shook his fist at Union troops as they marched past his house in 1865, marking the end of the Confederacy. Decades later, McIntire got his revenge by gifting the city a series of segregated parks and installing the now-infamous statue of Lee, along with Stonewall Jackson, Lewis and Clark, and George Rogers Clark. (McIntire himself is memorialized in a bust behind the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society).
On a recent chilly Saturday morning, roughly 50 people turned out for a Confederate monument tour led by Dr. Andrea Douglas, director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, and Dr. Jalane Schmidt, associate professor of religion at UVA.
Beginning at the barely legible plaque commemorating black history at the site where slaves were bought and sold, and ending at the graceful, imposing statue of Lee on his pedestal, Schmidt noted that our monuments show “whose history matters in the community.”
Defenders of our current Confederate monuments often express the desire to “preserve history.” But much of our local history is buried, Schmidt and Douglas said. Court Square Park, for instance, was once the site of a multiracial community called McKee’s Row. Fifty years before the more famous destruction of Vinegar Hill, McKee’s Row was demolished to make way for McIntire’s whites-only park, anchored by the statue of Stonewall Jackson. “You’d never know it,” Schmidt said. “You’re not supposed to know it.”
The Jackson statue, she also pointed out, was erected in 1921, the same year the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was founded.
The Johnny Reb statue, one of hundreds of similar statues planted in front of courthouses throughout the South after the end of Reconstruction, was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy but paid for in part by city and county funds. Among those on the statue committee, said Schmidt, was the prosecutor who declined to charge anyone in the lynching of John Henry James, which was attended by 150 unmasked white men.
“These are monuments to Jim Crow,” she said.
Other Southern cities have found ways to broadcast new values through their choice of monuments. “What they’ve done in Richmond is really great,” Daugherty says, referring to the way that city has balanced its boulevard of white male Confederate leaders with more recent monuments to female African American heroes like Maggie Walker, a teacher and the first African American woman to charter a bank, and Barbara Johns, who, as a high school student in Farmville, led a student strike to protest separate and unequal schools. Here in Charlottesville, she suggests, the city could recognize a local writer, like Amélie Rives or Julia Magruder, or an activist like Grace Tinsley or Otelia Love Jackson.
“There’s lots of good ideas,” Daugherty concludes. “I think it just takes a little organization.”
Some local women have been recognized in other ways—for instance, Jackson-Via Elementary in the city and Greer Elementary in the county are both named for female educators (Nannie Cox Jackson, Betty Davis Via, and Mary Carr Greer). And in 2011, UVA dedicated a memorial to Kitty Foster, a free black woman who worked as a laundress at the university. (A metal “shadow catcher” sculpture now demarcates the family’s graveyard.)
In 2009, after several protests, the city added a plaque to the Lewis and Clark statue commemorating Sacagawea’s contributions. Performance artist Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell, who organized a “theatrical protest” there in 2007 and started a petition that garnered 500 signatures, says the plaque was “a very minor concession to our protest,” and that she had hoped the city would make a bigger gesture.
As for new monuments to women, she says, “I would say I’m ignorant, like a lot of people, about what that would look like.”
But she’s not so sure about statues.
“I think a living way where you have artists who are paid to keep these things alive,” she suggests. For instance, she and other female artists were commissioned by UVA last spring to perform pieces at the Lee and George Rogers Clark statues, in response to August 12.
“In terms of countering a lot of the male statues I guess it’s important,” she says of the idea of women monuments. “But putting a lot of land into memorializing people…I don’t know if that’s the way to go.”
While Jackson and Lee never set foot in Charlottesville, there are plenty of notable women who actually lived here whose stories are largely unknown. Here are just a few:
1. Nancy Astor Nancy Witcher Langhorne was born in Danville and moved, at age 13, to an estate in Albemarle County. After an early, unhappy marriage to socialite Robert Gould Shaw II, Nancy moved to England, married fellow expat Waldorf Astor, and became the first woman to serve in Parliament.
2. Sarah Patton Boyle Boyle was born on a former plantation in Albemarle County, the granddaughter of Confederate veterans. She attended the Corcoran School of Art, married, and raised two sons. As she got older, she began questioning the views she was raised with and became an outspoken advocate for desegregation, writing hundreds of articles and speeches for the cause, and drawing attention from both Martin Luther King, Jr., who mentioned her by name in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, and the Ku Klux Klan, which burned a cross on her yard. The first white person to serve on the board of Charlottesville’s NAACP, Boyle was later recognized by the city as a “Bridge Builder,” with her name on the Drewary Brown Bridge.
3. Frances Brand An artist and activist once known around town as “the purple lady,” Brand was born at West Point and attained the rank of Army major, doing liaison and intelligence work. In later life she became an activist for peace, women’s rights, civil rights, and other causes. Her “First” series of paintings commemorate more than 150 notable but under-recognized local citizens, many of them women or African Americans. (The paintings were bought by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, but are not currently displayed, and were removed from the organization’s website after a recent redesign).
4. Queen Charlotte There are two statues of Queen Charlotte in one of her other namesake cities, Charlotte, North Carolina, but none here in Charlottesville. Legend has it that the German monarch, who married the British “mad King George,” wrote a widely circulated anti-war letter to Prussian king Frederick the Great, and was committed to social welfare. But in recent years, especially after Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry, Queen Charlotte is perhaps best known for being (possibly) the first black British monarch.
5. Isabella Gibbons Born into slavery, Gibbons managed to learn to read and write, and taught her children to do so as well. After the Civil War, she established a school for freed blacks, earned her own diploma, and then taught in the newly established (segregated) public school system for more than 15 years.
6. Alice Carlotta Jackson Jackson was the first African American to apply to UVA, in 1935. After earning a BA in English and taking additional courses at Smith College, Jackson applied to UVA for a master’s in French, which was not offered at any of the black colleges and universities in Virginia. The Board of Visitors denied her application, but it set off a series of public arguments, and the threat of a future lawsuit led the Virginia General Assembly to pass the Dovell Act, which paid qualified black students the additional money required to attend schools out of state. Jackson used her grant money to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University, and taught at a Florida college for 45 years.
7. Grace Tinsley Tinsely was the first African American woman elected to the Charlottesville School Board. “[She] used her voice on the board to make sure that people were treated fairly,” her daughter told Charlottesville Tomorrow. She was also the first nurse to work at Charlottesville High School. After her retirement, Tinsley successfully lobbied to establish a public defender’s office in Charlottesville. The Charlottesville Democratic Party named a scholarship in her honor, which is awarded to Charlottesville High School seniors from low- or middle-income households, and her name is on the Drewary Brown Memorial Bridge.
8. Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy The goddaughter of Robert E. Lee, Rives was born in Richmond and grew up at Castle Hill, in Albemarle County. She began writing as a young girl, and her bestselling first novel scandalized many for its portrayal of a woman who experienced sexual feelings. She went on to write more novels and, later, Broadway plays. After divorcing her first husband, she married Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, an artist and aristocrat, and the couple moved back to Rives’ childhood home.