Progressive Voice: Writing Ourselves into History Books

Krysta JonesProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Krysta Jones

Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month as a way to honor and remember women who have been pioneers and who have helped shape our society and contributed to its success.

Nationally, the theme of the National Women’s History Project is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.”

We in Virginia are also seeking to honor women who have been important contributors to Virginia’s progress as a Commonwealth.

We need look no further than Arlington to find women deserving of our respect, praise, and remembrance.

Mary Marshall was a public servant who represented Arlington County for 24 years as a Delegate in the Virginia General Assembly. She championed social services ranging from the rights of senior citizens to the needs of young children.

Evelyn Reid Syphax was a former Arlington elementary school teacher who served on elected and appointed school boards as well as many civic and community organizations. As Chairman of the Arlington School Board in the early 1980s, she led a successful overhaul of the County’s desegregation plan to reduce long bus rides for minority students. Mrs. Syphax’s family continues to provide leadership in our County and those who knew her honor her and remember her passing 16 years ago this month.

Both women exemplified Arlington’s progressive values. Yet despite their successes in and on behalf of Arlington, many current County residents know little about them. The same is true for many other women who were instrumental in bettering life in Arlington or Virginia.

Fortunately, the Women’s Monument Commission of Virginia is aiming to write more women into our history books by recognizing 12 outstanding women for their contributions to society with a monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Richmond.

We can thank Em Bowles Locker Alsop, a feisty advocate for women’s issues, who in 2010 successfully lobbied for a resolution to establish a monument recognizing Virginia women on Capitol Square in Richmond. The Women’s Monument Commission selected the finalists for the monument from the many recommendations received from around the Commonwealth.

The Monument is likely the first of its kind at a state capitol. Its interactive design centers around an oval courtyard with statues of the 12 women — some standing, some sitting — greeting visitors with descriptions about their lives. Guests will be invited to learn and reflect on the important role women have played in our history, and inspire people to make their own positive mark on our Commonwealth’s history.

Here are just a few of their stories:

  • In 1677, Cockacoeske — the first female chief of the Pamunkey tribe — signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation establishing peace between area tribes and the English settlers.
  • In the late 19th century, Sarah Boyd Jones was the first African-American woman to pass the Virginia Medical Examining Board’s exam. With her husband, she helped create a medical association for Virginia’s African-American doctors and also started a hospital.
  • Born in 1882, Adele Goodman Clark was an active suffragist who became president of the League of Women Voters in 1921. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Virginia Art Commission and is considered to be one of the founders of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

These are the untold stories of phenomenal women in Virginia’s history. The Honorable Mary Margaret Whipple, a former state Senator representing Arlington, serves as the Vice-Chair of the Commission, and is leading the charge to raise funds and awareness for the project.

The Monument also includes a Wall of Honor which will be updated regularly to reflect the continuous contributions women make to Virginia’s history. The deadline to nominate a woman for the wall is March 31. To find out more about the Monument or nominate your favorite Arlington woman, click here.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I hope everyone will learn more and teach our children about the women who worked to make Virginia, and communities like Arlington, places we are proud to call home.

Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of the Virginia Leadership Institute. In 2014 she was named by Leadership Arlington as a Top 40 Leaders Under 40 awardee.

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