Valentine Intern Spotlight: Emily

Emily, the Valentine’s Archives Intern, delves into her research on Mary Wingfield Scott and the importance of historic preservation

Wellesley College rising Junior and Archives Intern Emily

Hi everyone! My name is Emily and I’m the Archives intern at the Valentine this summer! I’m a rising Junior at Wellesley College, double majoring in history and classics with a focus on food history. I grew up in Richmond and work in Wellesley’s Archives during the school year, so I was beyond excited at the opportunity to work at the Valentine this summer. As a history student with some academic aspirations, archival materials are often the backbone of my research. Working to help make collections more easily accessible to students, scholars and the public has given me a lot of valuable insight on the importance of archival work in preserving and telling stories from our past.

I’ve spent my summer working on cataloguing the research notes of Mary Wingfield Scott. Mary Wingfield Scott was the author of “Houses of Old Richmond,” (1941) and “Old Richmond Neighborhoods,” (1950) and was a leader in Richmond’s historic preservation movement. As I’ve been working through her extensive collection (33 boxes and almost 3,000 folders!), I’ve gotten to see the scope and depth of her work. For almost every address in the collection, she included a photograph of the house as well as information on property owners, insurance policies, and mentions of the property in old newspapers. Many houses she catalogued and photographed have since been demolished, so many of these properties live on only in her publications and in this collection. Even as the city moves forward, Mary Wingfield Scott’s papers reminds us of the importance of our material past.

While most of her notes revolve around Richmond’s historic homes, I’m currently working on the last section of her collection about early French immigrants to Richmond. Each folder contains basic, somewhat sparse information about some of Richmond’s earliest immigrants, but the sheer number of people she wrote about is astounding. The stories of many of the men and women she wrote about have otherwise been lost to history, and it’s often difficult to find any additional outside information on them. While reading through and cataloguing her papers, I am reminded of the meaning and privilege of archival and historic preservation work. Richmond was built by thousands of men and women whose names and stories have been lost in public memory but who live on in archival collections that help tell the story of our past. Ordinary individuals made history and changed history, and it’s up to us to help uncover and tell the stories we’ve lost to time. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities the Valentine has given me to help do this work and highlight these stories.

Emily is the Archives Intern at the Valentine in Richmond.

A Richmonder in France, Part 1

In honor of Bastille Day Weekend, this first of a two-part profile of Sara Shelburne, a Richmonder who made a splash in France, was written by Nyasia Williams, owner and licensed cosmetologist of Styles By Milan LLC, aspiring public relations professional and a 2018 Valentine volunteer. 

Did you know that Virginia’s capital, Richmond, was once home to a famous fashion designer by the name of Sara Shelburne? Featured in Vogue and The New York Times, this style guru owned two boutiques in Paris, designed several game-changing garments and earned international recognition for her work, which has even been collected by top fashion museums in the country, including The Museum at FIT in New York and (you guessed it) the Valentine in Richmond. If you are familiar with Richmond and you know fashion then this may not be news to you, but if not, then sit tight. This blog series will fill you in on the illustrious career of this RVA native.

Haven’t heard of Sara Shelburne? No need to feel out of the loop. There are some unexpected pieces to her puzzling story. Her career as a fashion icon was somewhat of an accident. Shelburne was born in Europe and moved to Richmond as an infant. She graduated from Richmond’s George Wythe High School and studied political science at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). When she returned to her native Europe she became one of the most famous individuals in the world of fashion at the time.

Morris, Bernadine. “A Lawyer Finds Happiness as Dress Designer.” The New York Times June 12, 1971.


Shelburne moved to Paris in 1964 to study international law at l’Institute Politic. Her career blossomed in the incredibly competitive law field and she ultimately earned a doctorate degree.

In Paris, however, fashion trumps all and Shelburne, who frequented the city’s streets in her self-made dresses, triumphed over French fashion. While researching American investment in the common market, she attracted attention from fashion journalists by wearing clothes she had designed and made herself. As she told the Richmond News Leader, “before I knew it I had offers to design. I hired a seamstress. And that’s how it started.” By 1969, she had established an atelier called Tanagra and employed eight women above her eponymous boutique on the Rue du Cygne in Paris who brought her designs to life.

Beauty Bulletin: Beauty As Personality By Majumdar, Sachindra K.Vogue; New York Vol. 156, Iss. 6, (Oct 1, 1970): p. 127 Richard Avedon Photographer

Her innovative ensembles caught the eye of designers and from there she was riding the fashion wave. “I had always designed my own clothes and American fashion magazines in Paris saw some of them and interviewed me. Several magazines here planning spreads on my clothes,” said Shelburne in 1969 to The Richmond Times Dispatch. From the bar exam to Vogues Beauty Bulletin, Shelburne tackled it all.

Shelburne left Richmond Times Dispatch readers stunned by her confidence, which was central to her successful transition from lawyer to fashion designer. “I lift the phone and say what I have to offer, and that’s all there is to it.”

Her legacy lives on through her international work and right here at the Valentine. Now I ask, do you know the ever-so-talented Sara Shelburne?

Valentine Intern Spotlight: Erika Holshoe

Our Costume & Textiles Intern Erika fills us in on her love of fashion, curatorial work and being an archival detective.

University of Rhode Island Master’s Student and Costume & Textiles Intern Erika Holshoe

Howdy! I’m Erika and I am beyond thrilled to be interning this summer with the Costume & Textiles Department here at the Valentine.

I’ve always had a love of fashion, but its reputation as frivolous and unacademic made me shy away from pursuing fashion studies. My love of culture and history drove me to study linguistics instead. Fashion was always on the back-burner until I took a general education course my final semester of undergrad that looked at fashion through an anthropological lens. So much can be learned about humanity through the way we dress. The course validated my interests and demonstrated that fashion was worthy of being studied.

I’m currently finishing up my master’s degree at the University of Rhode Island, specializing in dress history. My aim is to become a curator, creating exhibitions that utilize fashion and dress to challenge the way we understand the world. In comparison to high-brow art, fashion is hugely accessible for visitors and is thusly a fabulous platform to connect with visitors and foster conversations. I was drawn to the Valentine because their mission supports challenging traditional ideas and methodologies and encourages conversation about difficult topics. Plus, their costume and textiles collection is out of this world!

V.44.48.06a,b, Second Day Dress, 1896, Wool oyster cloth, lace, silk, velvet, whalebone, Made for Mrs Gordon Wallace by Fannie Criss, Gift of Mrs. Gordon Wallace (née Ellen Clarke)

My mentor Kristen Stewart, the Nathalie L. Klaus Curator of Costume & Textiles, has been so supportive of my ideas and goals and has tailored my internship to help prepare me for a career in costume curation. Story-telling is integral to museum exhibitions; without it, an exhibition would be kind of, well, boring! Research (endless hours of research) creates the foundation for material culture analysis and story-telling. Ms. Stewart has let me dive deep into the archives to research a Richmond based dressmaker from the turn of the 20th century named Fannie Criss.

As a first child born out of enslavement, Criss navigated a tumultuous and changing South and created a name for herself as a dressmaker for the elite of Richmond. She lived in the wealthiest parts of the city and charged around 200 dollars for a dress at a time where an average dress cost 5 dollars. Her success led her to move to New York City, where her business continued to be successful. Her clientele include Maggie L. Walker and Gloria Swanson, and one of her best friends was the famous Madam C.J. Walker!

Like many of women of color, Criss’ story seems to be erased from the books of history. But my research is uncovering just how amazing her life was. It may sound geeky, but it’s a thrill to be a detective in the archives and discover nuggets of lost knowledge. It’s high time that Criss gets the recognition she deserves and I am so honored to contribute to this research.

Erika Holshoe is the Costume & Textiles Intern at the Valentine in Richmond.