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The Remarkable Women Who Shaped Virginia’s History

Women have played significant roles throughout Virginia’s 400 year long history. But they’re often minimized or left out of history books completely. A collection of essays, Virginia Women: Their Lives and TImes, aims to shed more light on this diverse history. WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: See historians Cynthia Kierner and Sandra Treadway speak about Virginia Women, Their Lives and Times Tuesday March 7th, Noon, at the Library of Virginia. The two volume collection is part of a series from University of Georgia Press, Southern Women: Their Lives and Times.


The story of Pocahontas is familiar to many. But what do you know about Cockacoeske?

Sandra Treadway: Cockacoeske was a Pamunkey Chief.

Sandra Treadway is Librarian of Virginia. She says Cockacoeske, who led the Pamunkeys for three decades, negotiated directly with English colonists following Bacon’s Rebellion.

Treadway: She was the most powerful woman at the time in the tribes that the English were dealing with. They were not used to political and diplomatic relations dealing with a woman so it was something afterwards they marveled about, scratching their heads, how did this happen? But she outsmarted them basically, a very, very impressive leader.

Treadway co-edited Virginia Women, Their Lives and Times. The two volumes offer new perspectives on prominent women like Dolley Madison and Patsy Cline. And they shed light on lesser known figures, like Clementina Rind. In 1773, her husband, the public printer and newspaper editor, died at the age of 39. With a family to take care of, Rind didn’t hesitate. She took over the family business.

Treadway: She was clearly shrewd because she knew in order to succeed she had to keep the patronage of the government of Virginia, because they were the ones that often printed notices took advertisements in the paper and of the leading planters of the area. So she needed the male citizens and the male population to support her paper even though it was being edited by a woman. So she ran around and visited people, but she also ran advertisements in paper basically very subservient in tone, very respectful but asking them to respect her new circumstances, but to put trust in her and keep patronizing her and they did, which is amazing.

Clementina Rind’s name appears prominently on “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” a pamphlet written by Thomas Jefferson in 1774. When it came time to reelect the public printer, the House of Burgesses overwhelming choose Rind over two male candidates. While she died unexpectedly a few months later, she had a big impact during the 13 months she did the job.

Treadway: If you think about it, this is the 1770s, just as the dissatisfaction among many Virginians and people living in the early Colonies with British rule, so the way she shaped stories could affect the way people thought about the news.

Treadway and her co-editor George Mason History Professor Cynthia Kierner worked with dozens of scholars to put together Virginia Women, Their Lives and Times. Volume 2 includes contemporary women including “community feminist” Vivian Carter Mason.

Treadway: I didn’t know about her and I know a lot about Virginian women’s history so most people wouldn’t have known about her. She needs to have that visibility.

A 60 year track record in civil and gender rights, Mason helped influence New Deal Legislation and traveled with delegations to Europe and the Middle East.

Treadway: Through a network of African American women’s organizations. She was fortunate early on, as a young married woman, she came under the mentorship of a woman named Mary McLeod Bethune who was an older, established civil rights leader who really both inspired her and showed her, within the period they were living, the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, how you could have agency, how an African American woman could have agency despite the abysmal situation politically and socially that many African Americans had.

These stories says Treadway demonstrate how much women accomplished and their stead influence on politics, culture and society, despite laws enacted through history to limit their power.

Treadway: Somebody was recently quoting Martin Luther King as saying the arc of our history is toward progress even if there are times of regression and so forth and I think you really see this in the stories in this book. That even though there are times of regression or times where women strive for something and aren’t able yet to achieve it, if you look at the experience of women in the colonial period and the experience of women now, the arc has moved, the needle has moved and I believe we are a better Commonwealth because of women’s contributions.

Treadway and Kierner will speak about Virginia Women: Their Lives and Times Tuesday March 7th at the Library of Virginia. For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.