James Monroe and the Era of Good Feelings

In our current climate of fierce partisanship, it is difficult to imagine an America without political parties. Looking back, our nation has nearly always been deeply divided in two, despite the warnings of George Washington himself, who loathed political parties. There was, however, a time our nation’s history when there were no political parties. Or, more accurately, there was but one party because the other party had spectacularly imploded. After the close of the War of 1812, that’s exactly what happened to the Federalist Party. Without their sworn foes to battle, the Democratic-Republicans were given the keys to the nation.

This curious time coincided with the two terms of President James Monroe, a Virginian who won the presidency in a landslide. Monroe, in his 1817 inaugural address, declared that “discord does not belong in our system.” He then claimed that his main goal as president would be to foster “harmony among Americans.” He believed this harmony depended on the extinction of all political parties. Monroe began his term with a goodwill tour of the country, spreading the message of unity and cooperation. Perhaps after decades of ugly partisanship and the War of 1812, for which Monroe had negotiated peace, the nation was simply too tired for more conflict. Whatever the reason, he was a hit nearly everywhere. Even in Boston, the Federalist citadel, he was greeted by thousands of rose-waving children, dressed in white. Once-powerful Federalist leaders who would not have stepped into the same room with Monroe before attended the banquet in his honor. The Columbian Centinel, a staunch Federalist newspaper, ran the headline that would come to define the Monroe Presidency: “Era of Good Feelings.”

James Monroe, undated, Vertical Files, the Valentine.

Of course, it’s easy to feel good once your side has triumphed over all opposition. And even easier to call a system in which your party rules unopposed a “partyless” utopia. Monroe had himself been involved in violent partisanship that nearly brought him and Alexander Hamilton (Federalist Foe #1) to a duel in 1797. But Monroe was a skilled politician—he had been a member of the Continental Congress, our U.S. senator, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, a diplomat, and Governor of Virginia— who could embrace the contradictions and sell them to skeptics. His optimism and kind personality were infectious. He completely ignored any remaining self-identifying “Federalists” and went about an ambitious agenda of national expansion, while checking the ever-looming threats of colonial European powers.

It goes without saying that The Era of Good Feelings was misery for many in America. The acquisition of Florida and settlement in western territories endangered the lives and sovereignty of Indian tribes. Slavery was the foundation of the national economy. Monroe claimed to be an abolitionist, though he owned approximately 250 enslaved people in his lifetime. To be clear, he insisted on gradual emancipation… so gradual that he only freed one person, at the end of his life. But even as conflicts over slavery grew, the Era provided a solution meant to please: the Missouri Compromise. With it, the balance of free and slave states would be preserved in Congress. The law merely staved off the larger issue, which would only fester as the nation expanded its borders. The Missouri Compromise, like Monroe’s personal views on slavery, was a way of having it both ways. At least politically, the good feelings held for those who could cast a ballot. Monroe ran virtually unopposed for reelection, in 1820. He lost only one electoral vote.

President Monroe is most remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, which he delivered in 1823. As America engaged in eternal power struggles with European superpowers and as countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean declared their independence from those same powers, Monroe declared that any further interference from Europe in the Western Hemisphere would be considered a threat to the United States. This demand for national sovereignty was a powerful rebuke of colonialism, though it was also convenient to eliminate those serious competitors in land conquest. Yet again, good feelings are easy once you’ve wiped out the serious competition. The logic of the Monroe Doctrine did not apply to America itself, as it waged the First Seminole War and as westward expansion infringed on the lands of Indigenous nations. 

The Era of Good Feelings ran on the fumes of a conflict-weary populace, eager to have it both ways. Monroe embodied that desire when claiming that one-party rule was partyless rule; when arguing that emancipation should move at a glacial pace; and in criticizing colonialism while adopting its tactics. Having it both ways does feel good because it delays the hard decision-making of good governance. The illusion could not last long and did not endure past Monroe’s second term. The 1824 “partyless” election was an electoral debacle. By the 1828 election, two new parties, the National Republican Party and the Democratic Party, had returned us to the two-party system. Over the next 30 years, the issue of slavery acquired the partisan urgency, passion, and rage that had initially defined the Federalist/Democratic-Republican rift over federal power. Some issues are too big and too important for compromise. By 1856, America was so divided that many feared Civil War.

That year, in a seemingly desperate ploy to heal the splitting nation, the Governor of New York wrote to Virginia’s Governor, Henry Wise. In the letter, he offered to exhume the body of James Monroe (he had died 27 years earlier, in New York City) and repatriate his remains to Virginia on the 100th anniversary of Monroe’s birth. This conciliatory gesture in the face of rising North/South tensions was readily accepted by Governor Wise, who secured funding for the ensuing spectacle: the Era of Good Feelings would be resurrected.

Monroe’s Casket Arrives in Richmond, July 1858, V.45.28.128, Hibbs Collection, The Valentine

On July 2, 1858, Monroe was dug up, his coffin placed into a new coffin, and his body was escorted in a lavish parade to spend the night under guard in New York’s City Hall. The next morning, the steamer Jamestown arrived with a delegation of Virginia dignitaries. The entire party, including New York’s Governor and his 7th Regiment, accompanied the corpse down the eastern seaboard. Monroe rode in the gentlemen’s room on the upper deck, elaborately draped with black and white muslin. The steamer arrived in Richmond in the early morning hours of July 5. Governor Wise, military regiments, and a large, cheering civilian crowd were already at the wharf to greet their Northern neighbors and their beloved Virginia statesman.

James Monroe was reinterred at Hollywood Cemetery on July 5, 1858. Richmonder Albert Lybrock won a contest to design his tomb, which the Dispatch called a “gothic temple,” and which has been recently restored to its original appearance. At the new, open grave, both governors delivered speeches on national unity. Afterwards, the delegations and military attachments from Virginia and New York celebrated aboard the Jamestown. The Era of Dug Up Good Feelings lasted well into the night. It was a great party and the entire affair was deemed a diplomatic success for both the North and the South, even if, in a spooky turn, Alexander Hamilton’s grandson fell overboard and drowned. Even if, in three years, the two sides would be at war. 

Tomb of James Monroe, Painted by Oswald Heinrich, 1858, V.65.16.05, The Valentine.

The Ice Queen in the Sweltering South

As the nation swelters in these early summer months, it seems fitting to explore the city’s history with a small relief we may take for granted: ice. Not until 1856 did regular Richmonders have access to a truly cold drink on a summer day. The luxury was brought to us by David King, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, who opened an office and ice house at 1811 East Cary Street. At his dock on the Kanawha Canal, he began to receive schooners from Maine, loaded with frozen slabs of the Kennebec River.

That’s right—the first commercial ice available in Richmond was shipped all the way from Maine. Twenty-inch slabs sailed hundreds of miles down the seaboard, up the James River, and into the canal. They were then stored in a huge hole in the ground so they would not melt in our summer heat. Ice from the Kennebec River had a reputation for sparkling clarity and cleanliness. Despite this, and despite its obvious allure to a sweaty southern city, ice was not immediately popular here. The cost made it inaccessible for many. Also, palates that had been drinking lukewarm or hot beverages for a lifetime were probably unaccustomed to the switch. Ice was largely used by restaurants, hospitals, and the wealthy in the antebellum era. Drivers delivered the slabs by horse-drawn wagon. King had enough business to keep him afloat until the Civil War, in which he fought on the Confederate side. But he returned from the First Battle of Manassas sick. He was unable to keep up with the increasing demands of the ice business.

Too ill to work, David King left the operation of his ice business to his brother-in-law, John McGowan. King died in 1872, as his family knew he would. He left a widow and seven children. But in 1874, the family received another blow, this one a complete surprise: John McGowan died suddenly, in July, at the height of the ice season. With this, King’s widow, Jane, needed a new person to run her family’s business if she was to keep herself and her seven children fed. But the ice business was tricky and required much foresight and experience. Contracts with Maine suppliers were signed in early winter, without any clue of the next season’s weather. Everyone lived in fear of a mild Maine winter or a sweltering Virginia summer. And the product itself was as volatile as the business. She very quickly decided that the person to run the ice house must be herself.

Jane King, Undated, Cook Collection, The Valentine

Jane King had worked behind the scenes at her husband’s business, mostly as a bookkeeper. She knew the business well, though she also well knew the prejudices she would face. Few male workers, let alone sea captains, would take orders or do business with a woman in the 1870s. On top of that, an economic depression had taken hold in 1874 and her brother had taken out a new mortgage on the canal-front property right before he died.

At the age of 44, Jane King determined that the only way to step into the role of an ice dealer was to do so boldly. She reopened under her name and took out a color ad on the front cover of the 1875 city directory: MRS. JANE KING DEALER IN ICE.

V.50.112.29, Jane King Advertisement, Circa 1880, The Valentine

Soon after Mrs. Jane King took over the ice house, she met a captain on her dock and told him where and how to unload. He refused to do anything a woman told him to do. She then refused to pay him. The stand-off ended quickly in her favor. In another instance, a crew grew so irate at her audacity to be a boss that they poured varnish over the ice they had just delivered. She docked the value from her payment. Predictably, men in the business began calling her the Ice Queen behind her back, as she remained cool and firm and businesslike through these protests. She earned a reputation as a serious businesswoman who would not be cowed. Within two years of taking the helm, the family business was out of the red.

Jane King did more than keep the ice house running. She expanded and thrived, even as ice’s ever-growing popularity brought on competitors. One main rival, Richmond Ice, opened in 1881. They alone received over 100 ice schooners a year and could store 3,000 tons of ice in a mammoth hole on Canal Street. To stay competitive, King innovated and embraced new technologies. With the rise of the railroads, she took full advantage of the tracks alongside the canal and began to ship ice not only around Virginia, but into West Virginia and the Carolinas. To beat competitors’ prices, she began storing her own winter ice from a spring pond on her suburban farm. She called it “country ice” and sold it at a 20% discount. She diversified with a coal and wood yard, to keep business strong in the winter months. An early adopter of the telephone, she was the first woman in the city to have a phone line in her name and the only woman listed in the city’s first telephone directory.

In 1881, King bought 205 N. 19th Street, one of the most illustrious homes in Richmond (still standing and now known as the Pace-King House). Her new home had two indoor bathrooms and running water in all the bedrooms. Living in luxury, she also maintained high standards for her product. If she noticed dirty ice coming off a ship, she let the captain know that he should clean his hold. If a railcar went astray and her ice melted, she made good use of her phone and collected damages from the railroad company. Her reputation for coolness came from the fact that she did not raise her voice in argument, though she did not shy from pursuing wrongs via lawsuits. By 1892, the operation had grown 700% and employed 30 men, and owned 14 ice wagons, seven coal wagons, and 40 horses.

In nearly 40 years, the basic logistics of the ice business changed very little. Sailed in from Maine, unloaded by crews, stored in the ground, and delivered by wagon; the slabs kept food fresh, hospitals running, and Richmonders cool. But a fundamental change did come in 1892, virtually overnight: an artificial ice plant opened here. The whole business model crumbled. Suddenly, ice could be made in vast quantities, onsite and on-demand. Without ice cutters in Maine, without ships, captains or docks, without gargantuan holes in the ground. Without living in fear of the weather. In response, Jane King did not balk. Before anyone else could do it, she contracted the entire output of the factory and stopped shipping from Maine entirely.

No amount of savviness could hold off the machine age. And it would not be long before more artificial ice plants sprang up in Richmond. The traditional ice companies needed to slim down and band together to survive. Only three years after artificial ice came here, in 1895, King and her three main competitors merged. King retired on a very generous stipend.

King’s career no doubt inspired other Richmond women who would pursue their own businesses. She obviously did not rid this city of prejudice. As soon as she knocked down a barrier, it essentially went back up for the next generation. This was the 19th century, after all. But you do not need to change an entire culture to affect change. Her most lasting impact, as evidenced by her nickname, was her behavior in the face of discrimination. She taught women how to succeed despite the culture. After shying away from a fistfight, King’s grandson once recalled her response. “Hold your own,” she scolded him. “Never back down.” It was the reason, after all, for her own success.


Much of the information for this blog post is from a the article “Ice Queen” by Helen Milius, published in the December 1959 issue of The Commonwealth.

The Valentine Partners with ARtGlass for Richmond’s First Wearable Augmented Reality Tours


June 15, 2021

Contact: Susan Shibut

(804)-649-0711 ex. 322


The Valentine Partners with ARtGlass for Richmond’s First Wearable Augmented Reality Tours

RICHMOND — The century-old Valentine, Richmond’s first museum, is now the city’s first institution to embrace the most imaginative touring technology: augmented reality on transparent smartglasses. They are partnering with ARtGlass, the Richmond-headquartered global leader in wearable AR for culture, to expand the public’s access to a thrilling way to engage with history.

Beginning in July, Valentine Tour Guides will lead the groundbreaking walking tour Monument Avenue: Origins and Reverberations. As guests are guided through the Monument Avenue Historic District, they will experience powerful storytelling using dynamic 3D visuals and compelling audio layered over real-life views of the neighborhood. For example, participants will see original source documents and period photographs from the era of the controversial monuments’ construction through modern protestor-led removal.

The tour was developed and piloted in 2020 to engage guests in meaningful dialogue about the factual history of systemic racism in Richmond and the nation, with the controversy over the Confederate monuments as a lens. Immediately the tour became oversubscribed, with extended waiting lists.

With the Valentine integrating this offering into its suite of walking tours, more city residents and visitors will be able to participate. The tour contents will evolve in real time as the situation on Monument Avenue develops, such as the potential removal of the Robert E. Lee monument.

“We’re committed to offering our guests new ways to engage with history,” said Liz Reilly-Brown, Director of Education and Engagement. “Wearable AR brings the past to visitors’ present in a way that is immersive, moving, and informative.”

The innovative format facilitates open conversations, accentuating interpretation with digital content that helps guests better understand these complex spaces, their history, and their broader significance. ARtGlass’ purpose-built software and strategies enable museums to deploy tour content on smartglasses, here on hardware produced by Epson.

ARtGlass has donated its services. The tour will be available for free to Richmond Public Schools and Title I students, thanks to funding from the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, the Jackson Foundation, the Moses D. Nunnally, Jr. Charitable Trust, the REB Foundation, the Shelton Hardaway Short, Jr. Trust, VCU Health, and Wells Fargo.

“This is such a unique opportunity for us as a museum and each of us as Richmonders. Seeing historic sites as we’ve never seen them before will spark discussion about how we acknowledge Richmond’s past and move forward together,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin.

Lexi Cleveland, public historian, lifelong Richmond area resident and ARtGlass Vice President of Client Services stated “Honest, evidence-based conversations around our collective history are more important than ever. We are excited that the Valentine is willing to embrace this new technology and keep the dialogue going.”

Tours will begin Saturday, July 24 and Saturday, July 31 at 10 a.m. Future tour dates will be available on the Valentine’s online calendar.

# # #

The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine is a place for residents and tourists to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region.

ARtGlass, a global Augmented Reality technology company based in Virginia and Italy develops software and strategies that enable clients to easily arrange dynamic digital content over views of real-world objects and places through smartglasses, tablets, or smartphones. Over the past three years, ARtGlass has emerged as the world’s leading developer of wearable AR experiences for cultural sites and attractions, with millions of thrilled visitors at dozens of iconic places. Visit https://artglassgroup.com/.

Richmond Story: Richmond City Jail

This past year, criminal justice reform has dominated headlines and public debate. Despite widespread public support, much needed change still seems elusive. In the first half of the 20th century in Richmond, criminal justice reform was top in the minds of many citizens and politicians too. A few politicians actually ran for office on prison reform platforms. But, in spite of widespread outrage at a broken system, the change most wanted somehow did not materialize for decades. The reform Richmonders cried out for a hundred years ago, however, was not for racial justice or for less brutality. Curiously, at that time, Richmond had a reputation for outrageous criminal leniency, at least for some folks. In fact, the city jail itself was considered a den of iniquity that aided and abetted crime.  

Richmond City Jail, Circa 1935, X.46.01.75, The Valentine.


 As early as 1856, Marshall Street in Shockoe Bottom has been the site of a jail. But the one built there in 1902, and which stood for 55 years, was considered a municipal embarrassment for pretty much its entire existence. Only eight years after construction the City Sergeant called it antiquated and obsolete. Built to house 300 people, the jail was nearly always overcrowded. It was also poorly planned, poorly constructed, and poorly sited. Built directly beneath the Marshall Street Viaduct, the main bridge that spanned Shockoe Valley at the time, the jail’s hidden location only added to its problems. Passersby on the bridge easily lowered contraband into unscreened cell windows. The window bars were so cheap that prisoners filed through them faster than the city could replace them. Once a prisoner broke out, it was easy to disappear without being seen, often by hopping a train on the nearby C&O tracks. Politicians joked that it was a jail “easier to get out of than to get in.”

Workers Remove Contraband Netting From Marshall Street Viaduct, 1957, V.58.91.11, Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, The Valentine.

When Prohibition took effect in 1920, Richmond City Jail went from being a problem to an outright joke. Unable to accommodate the masses of arrests each night, City Sergeant George Saunders, who ran the prison, adopted a laissez faire attitude to wait the law out.  Rabble-rousers were housed in one boisterous common room. Visitors at all hours, who were not searched, simply brought the interrupted party to the prison. Alcohol flowed freely, prostitutes worked the room, and prisoners largely came and went at will in what was called the “trusty system,” though it is doubtful that Black inmates enjoyed the same freedoms as whites in the segregated jail. Nevertheless, Richmonders began to call the jail “Saunders Chateau.” The permanent party beneath the Marshall Street Viaduct enraged citizens and politicians, though the building remained unchanged until 1934, when an escape turned deadly.

On September 29, 1934, convicted killers Robert Mais and Walter Legenza were on their way to the jail office to speak to their lawyer. They were unhandcuffed and the guards were unarmed.  In the hallway, the prisoners pulled pistols and began to shoot. One officer was killed, two were injured. Once past the guards, Mais and Legenza just walked out of the jail’s front door.  Amazingly, the lock on the entrance could not be opened from outside, but opened freely from the inside. 

The men, undoubtedly, had acquired their pistols from a visitor. Some suspected that Mais’ mother had smuggled them in a can of baked chicken.  No matter the exact method, everyone knew that it had been way too easy. The tragic death of a guard finally prompted some improvements at the city jail, including quality bars on the windows. At some point, the authorities hung nets from the viaduct to prevent contraband drops. But the changes were not nearly enough to make a competent facility. Ten years later, a federal inspector still found wine flowing, inmates leaving for bars, inmates returning from haircuts, and cells with locks that had been broken for years. For some down and outs, the jail had become free housing. About twenty “regulars” spent ten months of the year there. A city alderman was also unimpressed by improvements when he remarked, “You’ve still got just an old jail, under a viaduct, near an incinerator, near a dump and near railroad tracks.” Strangely, the federal inspection did not lead to a new jail, but only an increase in capacity from 300 to 400. The den of iniquity only got bigger.

The notorious Richmond City Jail seemed as permanent as a mountain, as unshakeable as original sin. The building itself came to embody impunity. No one was happy with it, though it persisted despite decades of public outrage, editorials, bad press, failed inspections, new prison proposals, protests, escapes, embarrassments, political speeches and promises. So what finally did it in? What finally moved the mountain? Like so much of our city, it was in the way of the new turnpike. In 1957, the building finally came down to make way for I-95.  

Richmond Story: Belle Bryan Day Nursery

All mothers work. But the title of “working mother” is now associated with contemporary history, tied to women’s employment. But mothers have always worked outside the home, especially mothers from poor households. Here in Richmond, major industries thrived on the exploitation of largely women workforces, both Black and white. Textile mills and some large operations within tobacco factories relied almost exclusively on women, who were paid very low wages to perform brutal jobs. Often, before child labor laws, children worked beside their mothers. If a child was too young to work, many factory-employed mothers left small children under poor supervision—sometimes by older children. Sometimes they had no choice but to leave their children unattended all day.

Female Tobacco Workers, Early 20th Century, Cook Collection 1138, The Valentine

A Richmond woman named Isobel “Belle” Lamont Stewart Bryan was well-aware of the struggles of working mothers. In 1887, Bryan helped to found the Richmond Woman’s Christian Association (later the YWCA), which provided women factory workers with hard-to-find safe, clean and affordable housing.  The RWCA also offered medical care, sewing classes, a library and religious instruction. As the daughter of a wealthy tobacco merchant, Belle Bryan did not have first-hand experience of economic hardship, so her concern for the plight of wage-earning women might seem surprising. She lived on a large estate on the North Side, called Brook Hill, and frequently traveled to Europe. And she undoubtedly had help raising her own six children. Perhaps her activism stemmed from what she witnessed at her father’s tobacco warehouse. Whatever the source, she quickly discerned that safe housing was not enough to help Richmond’s working women. In 1890, as chairman of the RWCA, she founded and chaired a free kindergarten and day nursery in the factory district for white children.


Belle Bryan Day Nursery opened at 6:30 a.m. and accepted babies as young as one month old. As the children arrived, they immediately received a bath and clean clothes. Their days included nourishing meals, nap time, play time, education and even medical exams by a nurse. For all this, mothers paid the small sum of 15 cents per week. And they could proceed to their long, exhausting workday with peace of mind, knowing that their children were safe and fed. The kindergarten was free. Of course, operating costs far exceeded 15 cents per week, per child, so Bryan became a tireless fundraiser. She received grants from City Council and larger charities, solicited churches and organized fundraisers to keep the charity afloat. Fancy dress balls at The Jefferson Hotel made charitable giving to the nursery a highly anticipated fashion event for Richmond’s elite families.

Belle Bryan Day Nursery, Circa 1919, Cook Collection 1207, The Valentine

In 1898, the nursery moved to rented quarters 201 N. 19th Street, where it remained for 45 years. By the 1950s, the nursery moved to a larger rented space downtown and charged on a sliding scale, according to need: from ten cents to two dollars a day. In 1961, the nursery erected its own building at 610 N. 9th Street to accommodate the 75 children in its care.

A rapidly changing downtown, however, began to cut the nursery off from its mission. Urban renewal throughout the 1960s had pushed many poor residents out. “Slum clearance” programs, highway construction and newly constructed superblocks of government buildings and parking lots turned a bustling city center into a white-collar business district. Factories moved to isolated suburban locations. Citing these changes, the Belle Bryan Day Nursery ceased operations in 1971. The progressive charity had been ahead of its time for 80 years and it closed just as Women’s Liberation Movement began to take off and the term “working mother” took on a whole new meaning.

Richmond Story: Smallpox Vaccine

Today, all Virginians 16 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID vaccine! Are you hesitant, skeptical or afraid? Maybe a little vaccine history will put your mind at ease.

The world’s first vaccine was developed to combat smallpox. Highly contagious and one of the deadliest diseases in human history, it killed three out of every ten of its victims. And it was widespread. Smallpox affected all classes—royalty, soldiers, enslaved people—but was particularly devastating to Indigenous people.  In Virginia, smallpox was introduced by Jamestown settlers, and by 1700, the disease had already killed 75% of the Indigenous population, nearly wiping out the once powerful Powhatan Nation.

Regular smallpox outbreaks swept through Richmond from the 18th to the first part of the 20th century. Before 1796, doctors used a crude precursor to inoculation, called variolation, to try to control the spread. With variolation in the United States and Europe, a scab from someone infected with smallpox would be inserted under the skin of a healthy individual. During the American Revolutionary War, George Washington made sure his soldiers were treated with variolation. The procedure, in addition to being disgusting, could backfire. Variolation could lead to a deadly case. But soldiers so feared smallpox that if no medical supervision was available, it was not unheard of to simply lance a scab from an infected comrade and self-variolate.

This was the state of things before 1796, when an English scientist named Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who caught cowpox seemed immune from smallpox.  From there, he developed an effective smallpox vaccine from the slightly less disgusting, much less deadly sores of infected cows.

By 1800, Henrico County granted the first license for a smallpox inoculation clinic, at the estate of John Tabb near Richmond. During the 19th century, Richmond offered free vaccinations for its citizens. Doctors would receive dried cow scabs, along with instructions on how to administer them. This 1861 instruction sheet from Virginia’s vaccine agent, Dr. A.E. Peticolas, shows that the early vaccine was not administered by needle, but by rubbing the powdered scabs into a section of skin scratched raw by the doctor. Ouch!

Despite the pain and the ick factor, the vaccine was widely administered. After years of vigorous public health campaigns, smallpox was eliminated from the U.S. in 1949. It was eradicated from the world by 1980. It is the only disease to have been completely eliminated through vaccination, though hopefully not the last.

With modern advances, it is easier than ever to distribute vaccines quickly and on a mass scale. The more people who receive the COVID vaccine, the more chance we have to one day eradicate this new disease. And in 2021, we don’t have to deal with scabs as part of the inoculation process.

A sterile needle and some mRNA doesn’t seem so daunting now, does it?

Breathing Places Tells the Story of Richmond’s Carefully Crafted Greenspaces

April 7, 2021

Contact: Eric Steigleder
Communications Director

Breathing Places Tells the Story of Richmond’s Carefully Crafted Greenspaces

Just in time for spring, Breathing Places: Parks & Recreation in Richmond explores the past, present and future of the city’s greenspaces


Entrance to Hollywood Cemetery postcard, ca. 1905, Valentine Museum Collection, V.2019.04.621

RICHMOND — The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5 and explores the design, use and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas and natural spaces. Over the last 170 years, the region has developed and maintained these greenspaces for some residents while limiting and denying access to others. The new exhibition will explore this complex story while providing a window into the ongoing effects on residents today.

Breathing Places both celebrates and critically examines a central part of community life,” said Christina K. Vida, the Elise H. Wright Curator of General Collections. “As spring approaches and Richmonders with access take to their local parks, fields and yards, it’s the perfect time to explore the histories of those important spaces.”

The exhibition’s title comes from an 1851 recommendation by Richmond’s Committee on Public Squares, which advised “securing breathing places in the midst of the city or convenient to it.” This recommendation would have dramatic (and disproportionate) impacts on Richmonders.

The debut of Breathing Places comes on the heels of the Valentine welcoming visitors back to the museum with new outdoor programming, spring and summer events and more.

“As residents and visitors alike begin to return downtown to enjoy many of the greenspaces they’ve missed for over a year, now is the ideal time to open this exhibition,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin.Breathing Places is not only an opportunity to fully explore the history of parks and recreation, but to inspire visitors to experience these spaces for themselves while considering how we can improve community access going forward.”

Breathing Places will also include a slideshow of rotating images featuring community-submitted photos. Richmonders (both individuals and organizations) can submit images of themselves, their families or their friends enjoying greenspaces across the region.

Breathing Places: Parks & Recreation in Richmond will be on display on the Lower Level of the Valentine from May 5, 2021 through January 30, 2022.


About the Valentine
The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine is a place for residents and tourists to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region. thevalentine.org

Richmond Story: Easter Styles

History is change. Traditions, values, awareness, power dynamics, fashion and social norms all change as time passes. This past year, so much history has been made and so many things have changed before our eyes.

On this Easter Sunday, however, there is one thing we can say we hope never changes. And that is the tradition of stepping up and stepping out for Easter. From the time of this city’s founding, Richmonders from varying backgrounds have donned their best on this holiday. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite historic photos of Easter styles on display in Richmond—from Lakeside to Jackson Ward to Southside to Oregon Hill to the Fan.

Easter Greetings from “Kitty”, 1892, FIC.037880, The Valentine


Easter at 100 W. Orange St., 1954, V.79.120.1660, Edith K. Shelton Collection, The Valentine


Mrs. Bowis and Girls on Easter, Circa 1950, V.89.293.86, Tyree Family Collection, The Valentine


Easter Sunday at 1200 St. John St., Corner Coutts St., 1954, V.79.120.1005.01, Edith K. Shelton Collection, The Valentine


Easter, 1955, Terry Hoffman, V.2017.15.14, Hoffmann Family Photograph Collection, The Valentine


Easter Morning at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1956, V.91.42.669, Edith K. Shelton Collection, The Valentine


Easter Sunday at Maymont Park, April 10, 1966, Carl Lynn, V.67.32.26, Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, The Valentine


The Woolard Family on Easter, 1967, V.2015.90.116, The Valentine


Easter on Parade, 1983, V.85.37.3036, Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, The Valentine


Easter on Parade, 1994, V.2007.61.1755, The Valentine


We hope these archival gems inspire you to shed your pandemic sweatpants, put on your best outfit and (safely) venture outside!

Richmond Story: Mary Munford

As Women’s History Month kicks off, we wanted to use this week’s Richmond Story blog to discuss Mary-Cook Branch Munford.

Munford once wrote to a friend: “Education has been my deepest interest from my girlhood, beginning with an almost passionate desire for the best in education for myself, which was denied because it was not the custom for girls in my class to receive a college education at that time. This interest has grown with my growth and strengthened with each succeeding year in my life.”

Mary-Cooke Branch at 17, 1882, V.46.03.14, The Valentine

Around the time this picture was taken of Mary-Cooke Branch in 1882, she was pleading with her mother to attend college. Though her Richmond family was prominent and wealthy enough to afford tuition, her mother refused. Her mother agreed with public opinion that the education of women was not only unnecessary, but downright scandalous. And so, Mary went to a finishing school instead—the common fate of most wealthy daughters at the time. Finishing school taught social graces and etiquette. Academic studies there largely aimed to make women interesting conversationalists for prospective husbands.

Undeterred, in the 1890s, Branch founded a women’s discussion group to harness the resources, influence and energies of other Richmond socialites for the greater good. But her efforts to talk about Jackson Ward’s sewage and hookworm problem over tea did not appeal to most members. The meetings inevitably devolved into finishing school-style conversations about poetry. Clever as she was, Branch did put her “husbandry degree” to good use. By 1893, she had attracted Beverly Bland Munford, a local lawyer and state legislator with a reputation for social activism. In this marriage, Mary Cooke-Branch Munford was much more than a conversationalist. She was a co-conspirator.  The couple would combine their talents and wills to fight educational discrimination by sex, race and class in Virginia and throughout the South.

In 1901, the Munfords and four other women founded the Richmond Education Association. The group raised awareness for the need for public schools for both Black and white children. Child labor was still the norm and, at the time, the state’s public education system was so sparse and underfunded that it was inaccessible to most Virginians. Wanting to expand her activism beyond Richmond’s borders, Munford also became president of the Cooperative Education Association, which sought to expand public education in rural areas. She traveled through the South as part of an interracial coalition to lobby governments and provoke citizens to demand more for their children. She co-founded the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls and served on its board of trustees. With these efforts, Munford helped to build new rural high schools, improve teacher training and establish agricultural and industrial schools in areas that had severely lacked in formal education.

When Munford’s husband died in 1910, she shifted her tactics from stoking public support for educational progress to provoking Virginia legislators directly. She likely learned a great deal about how power works from Beverly, who had served as both a state senator and a state delegate. At this time, Virginia funded four colleges to educate men, though none for women. Any woman with academic aspirations who wanted to further her education went to one the state normal schools, to be trained as teachers. Normal schools lacked accreditation and ranked far below college standards.

No doubt Munford had her own college dreams in mind when she created the Co-ordinate College League. The sole mission of this body was to lobby the General Assembly to build a sister college for women at the University of Virginia. Shrewdly, she argued that improving women’s education would improve men’s education as well, since most teachers of boys were, in fact, women. Despite opposition from lawmakers and the school itself, she mustered significant public support and incessantly revived the issue before the General Assembly. All efforts—in 1910, 1912, 1914, 1916, and 1918—failed.  In 1916, the measure failed by only two votes. Her persistence finally paid off when the legislators caved and agreed to admit women to William and Mary in 1918. Two years later, the college appointed Munford as the first woman on their Board of Visitors. She would also serve as a trustee of the Black college, Fisk University. UVA granted her a place on their Board of Visitors in 1926, though the school would not admit women as undergraduates until 1970.

In 1920, Munford became the first woman to serve on Richmond’s School Board. Mary Munford Elementary was named after her in 1951, 13 years after her death. And though her most lasting impact remains on Virginia’s educational system, Munford’s activism was multi-faceted. From suffrage to labor to race relations, she fought for improved equality—although, notably, she never targeted segregation itself. She held office or influential appointments in several other progressive organizations throughout her life, including the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, the YWCA, the National Child Labor Committee, the National Urban League, the regional Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the Virginia Inter-Racial Committee and many others. All this, she accomplished without a formal education and with two children. But if her finishing school education has taught us one thing it is that a woman cannot be finished—if she doesn’t want to be.

Richmond Story: Lillian Payne and the Independent Order of St. Luke

“Who is so helpless as the negro woman? Who is so circumscribed and hemmed in—in the race of life, in the struggle for bread, meat, and clothing—as the negro woman?” In 1901, when Maggie Walker made this statement, Black women in Richmond had few employment opportunities outside of domestic service, factory work or agricultural labor. Walker, the daughter of a laundress, once claimed that she herself had been born with “a laundry basket on my head.” Her mother’s endless hours, and the painful scrubbing with grated skin and harsh chemicals had made a deep impression on her. And though her public education spared her from this fate, the best job society could offer an educated woman—Black or white—was that of a teacher. Walker did teach but was forced to retire when she got married.

The double bind of racism and sexism that Black women experienced compelled Walker to create new economic opportunities when she took over leadership of the Independent Order of St. Luke in 1899. At the time, it was a beneficial society for burial insurance. But under her leadership, the IOSL expanded into Black banking, Black publishing, Black retail and other ventures meant to service an underserved community. Black women were the driving force of that expansion. Some departments within the organization were advertised as being run exclusively by women. Walker, in fact, was not the only woman to succeed within St. Luke Hall. Many others —Lelia Bankett, Emeline Johnson, Ella O. Waller—many not be so well known, but were still vital to the victories of the Independent Order of St. Luke. And they proved to a sexist and racist world that successful Black women were not an anomaly, but an inevitability.

Office of the Independent Order of St. Luke, Circa 1900, V.88.20.31, Independent Order of St. Luke Collection, The Valentine

One of the many women instrumental to the IOSL’s success was Lillian Payne, a lifelong Richmonder. A former teacher like Walker, she came into the organization’s employ in 1900. Over a career there that lasted more than 50 years, Payne served in many roles, including financial secretary, home office manager, managing editor of the St. Luke Herald and director of the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank. At the bank, she led the Finance Committee, which underwrote thousands of mortgages for Black Richmonders.  With a creative side as well, she also wrote and directed many of the IOSL’s public pageants. 

Payne’s work on the weekly St. Luke Herald, however, would be her most powerful contribution to the IOSL. The Herald was written, edited and printed at IOSL headquarters. As a clerk in the St. Luke’s Printing Department, Payne corrected the first proof of the first edition in March of 1902. Initially, the purpose of the paper was to communicate and coordinate IOSL matters across an expanding number of councils across the nation. But in 1902, the same year the paper launched, Virginia lawmakers rewrote the state constitution, disenfranchising Black voters. The Herald responded with its first editorial, which laid out the new publication’s mission: to fight. The staff vowed to fight Jim Crow, voter suppression, educational suppression and all forms of racial injustice. Within five years, Payne rose from first clerk to managing editor.

As they spread awareness of racial injustice and coordinated economic boycotts, Payne and the St. Luke Herald’s staff also amplified the IOSL message of economic uplift, advertising benefits and opportunities within the organization. With Payne as manager, the next decade brought in thousands of new subscribers. By 1929, the IOSL had 100,000 members in 24 states and the Herald became Richmond’s leading Black newspaper, with 30% of Black Richmond families subscribing.

Lillian Payne Retires (Payne in center), Scott Henderson, Circa 1955, V.88.20.81, Independent Order of St. Luke Collection, The Valentine

As a newspaper editor and bank director, Payne had attained power, influence and success rarely available to even white women at the time. Her rise was made possible by the visionary, feminist employment structure of the IOSL, which sought to untie the double bind of sexism and racism. But the most impressive feat of the organization may not be its wildly successful women leaders like Walker and Payne. Perhaps even more revolutionary, though much more subtle, was the chance the IOSL gave to a larger number of ordinary Black women, who did not have the educational opportunities that they had had. By the early 20th century, educational opportunities for Black Richmonders had dwindled since the Freedmen’s era of the 1870s. Despite this, the IOSL made it possible for Black women who wanted to live ordinary lives to earn a good living in respectful and respectable jobs. In the 1920s, you could walk into the St. Luke Hall on a weekday and see more than 50 Black women working away: clerks, assistants, stenographers, field employees, recruiters, community organizers, accountants, underwriters and cashiers. From there, a substantial Black middle class began to rise in Richmond.