Valentine Intern Spotlight: Susan Shibut

Susan Shibut, the Valentine’s new PR & Marketing Intern, writes about her dedication to sharing Richmond’s complicated history

Hello! My name is Susan Shibut and I am excited to get started in my new position as the Public Relations and Marketing intern here at the Valentine. I’m a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University where I am studying communications with a history minor. In my time here in Richmond I have fallen in love with this city and couldn’t be happier with this opportunity to learn about it and engage with the community.

In my search for an internship the Valentine stood out as an institution with an inspiring mission. There are plenty of opportunities where I could’ve gotten people coffee and written fluffy blogs, but this would be a chance for me to be a part of challenging a narrative and making an impact. I wanted experience that would teach me something, not just look shiny on a resume.

It is so important to always explain history in an accurate and nuanced way, and that’s something Virginia and Richmond specifically have struggled with and often failed at. Virginia’s state-issued history textbook “Virginia: History, Government, Geography,” unabashedly supported the “Lost Cause” myth from 1957 until phased out in the 1970s. The textbook claimed enslaved people, sometimes referred to as “servants,” were happy, content and didn’t work hard because they didn’t fear losing their jobs. That textbook is estimated to have reached more than a million students, so it’s not surprising that the inaccuracies it perpetuated still pop up in education and public discourse today.

Poor interpretation of history has had lasting effects on Richmond, reflected in everything from the statues on Monument Avenue to the zoning of our school system. I hope that with my work at the Valentine I can help take personal and professional initiative to challenge historical failures and build a better, less editorialized interpretation that is accessible to anyone who wants to learn. As I get closer to graduating I am focused on learning how to convey accurate stories, sometimes only armed with sources that don’t necessarily stand up to appropriate standards of truth and integrity. The complicated, painful nature of Richmond’s history and the nation’s history can make this difficult and uncomfortable—and that’s a discomfort that I’ve felt personally, not just in academic or professional writing but in conversations with friends and family. The water has been seriously muddied by years of revisionism, avoidance and myth-making. I want to be a part of making something better, more truthful, and more inclusive than what we’ve seen in the past.

Our vision statement says it best—we are using the past to inform the present and shape the future. I believe that looking back will push us to look forward. I love this city, and it’s a privilege to join the Valentine in trying to make it better.

Susan is the PR & Marketing Intern at the Valentine in Richmond.

“Where in the World is the Valentine?” Part 6: Don’t Trust Google

Don’t trust Google.

We know what you’ve been thinking all summer:

“I really need to get down to the Valentine. There’s that ‘controversial’ Monument Avenue exhibition on display and I read that article in Style Weekly about the Cook Photograph Collection. There’s even that exhibition with the working Costume and Textiles Lab!”

But you’ve been putting it off because of the ongoing construction. Please make plans to visit and just enjoy the adventure.

But keep in mind: it’s getting a little weird. There have been alarming reports of shape-shifting buildings and disappearing streets. The old Richmond Eye and Ear Hospital disappeared one week and the new VCU Children’s Hospital started appearing the next. Remember the Virginia Treatment Center for Children? It’s gone and a new VCU Adult Outpatient building is already replacing it. And then there are the streets. Well, sometimes there are streets. Other times, just a lot of parking cones, yellow tape and dust.

But despite all these changes to the neighborhood, the one thing that we are sure of is that the Valentine and our exciting exhibitions and programs aren’t going anywhere.

So just a piece of advice: ignore Google Maps. Instead, go ahead and get lost in this great neighborhood, enjoy the evolving Court End area, take in all the VCUHealth developments and discover a new stories about our city.

In this blog series, we’ve touched on a few: the Egyptian Building, Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Richmond and more. But those stories just scratch the surface.

Eventually, you’ll find us and you’ll get a medal (and a good dose of Richmond Stories) for all your efforts. See you soon!

Our friend Beau Cribbs finally found his way to the Valentine and received his medal!

Four: A Constitution Day Reflection

Most standard biographies of Doctor James McClurg (1747-1823) begin with his accomplished medical career, friendship with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and mention his participation in the American Revolution as a physician. Some detail his attendance at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, noting that he left without signing the final document. This brief biography will start with a number: Four.

The Doctor James McClurg Bedchamber in the Wickham House at the Valentine.

That is the number of enslaved people that McClurg owned toward the end of his life. The 1820 census detailed that James McClurg held four in bondage while residing with his son-in-law and daughter, John and Elizabeth Wickham. One young man was aged between 14 and 25. The other three were women over 45 years old. Whether they worked and lived on the Wickham’s property or elsewhere is not known. They might have been hired out to other families, not benefiting from the money they made for McClurg. The young man might have been his forced to wash, dress, and feed the elderly McClurg, possibly even sleeping in his room each night (notice the pallet on the floor at the foot of the bed in the photo above).

So it is clear that James McClurg did not leave the Constitutional Convention in late July 1787 because he opposed slavery. He and the other Virginians at the summer-long meeting in Philadelphia supported preserving the domestic slave trade. Instead, they worked to ensure that an enslaved individual would count as only 3/5 of a free person in order to determine representation in Congress. So why did he leave? After months of working on the document, McClurg disagreed with the length of the President’s term (he thought it should be for life), and he believed the federal government should be able to veto state laws. He and James Madison exchanged letters about these issues. Madison sent him a copy of the Constitution in October 1787. We do not know how the four enslaved people he owned felt about any of these issues. Nor do we know how they learned of the newly-created United States of America. Their letters, stories, and opinions do not survive.

McClurg was a Federalist, meaning an advocate for a strong central government that would oversee the then-13 states. He and the other delegates created a document that provided structure and simultaneously crafted a process to amend it. After ratifying the initial Constitution in 1788, the states set about changing it immediately, adding ten amendments largely based on the proposals of Virginia’s George Mason. But the Bill of Rights (ratified on December 15, 1791), as revolutionary as it was, still did not apply to McClurg’s enslaved man and women. They could not enjoy freedom of speech or assembly. They certainly were not allowed to petition the government to redress their grievances.

V.92.52, Dr. James McClurg, Painted by Cephas Thompson, Circa 1810, The Valentine

Thirty-eight delegates* signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. It would be 74 years before the 13th Amendment abolished American slavery in 1865. Three years later, the 14th Amendment provided citizenship and equal protection for those persons born or naturalized in the United States. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave the vote to men, no matter their “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” If you’re counting, that’s over 83 years before one of the four enslaved members of James McClurg’s household significantly benefited from the ideals of the new nation. And the three women? Unless they were wealthy and educated, the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, did not benefit many African-American women in Richmond. They were turned away by poll taxes, vague “understanding clauses,” and other restrictive measures provided in Virginia’s 1902 Constitution. It is not until federal laws, enacted during the 1960s, along with the 1964 ratification of the 24th amendment (outlawing poll taxes) that McClurg’s four enslaved likely would have achieved full-citizenship. 177 years and 5 amendments later, “We the People” finally included African-Americans and women (as well as Native Americans and persons of color).

As we observe Constitution Day today, we can honor the living, breathing document that James McClurg and his colleagues created and expected to be altered while also acknowledging the harsh reality of James McClurg’s endorsement of and participation in the slave trade. We can celebrate the revolutionary ideas contained in the Constitution while also celebrating the descendants of the four who sought freedom and worked hard to finally put into practice the ideals enshrined in this founding document. Hopefully, today, we can seek to enjoy the “blessings of liberty” while renewing our efforts to create “a more perfect Union.”

*George Read signed for an absent John Dickinson. 39 signatures were added by 38 men. Three Virginians signed the Constitution: George Washington, John Blair, and James Madison.

“Where in the World is the Valentine?” Part 5: Rearing its Ugly Head

How do you really know that you’ve arrived at the Valentine? That’s easy.

As you make your way to that most beautiful block of 1100 East Clay in Richmond where the Valentine stands (and after you’ve traversed several closed sidewalks and lost your way several times), you will immediately be confronted by the ugliest building in the city. We’ve talked about cranes, closed streets, shifting sidewalks and event lost ghosts, but this edifice might be the real reason you’ve been having trouble finding us.

After all, it’s not hard to miss and it’s easy to get sidetracked. It’s the crumbling structure missing tiles and dead-ending East Clay Street. You know it as the City of Richmond’s Public Health and Safety Building.

 

Built in the 1960s and representing the worst of mid-century modern design, there is nothing healthy or safe about it. Not only is it an eyesore with its peeling walls and aging marble, but by plopping this building in the middle of Clay Street, it has served to isolate the Valentine and VCUHealth from the rest of downtown. Need proof? Here is a picture from the Valentine Archives of the gorgeous structure that stood on this spot before the Public Health and Safety Building went on to eventually fill the space:

FIC.033739, Purcell Hoe at NW corner of 10th and Clay Streets, Mary Wingfield Scott, The Valentine

Whatever your stance on the proposed Navy Hill redevelopment project, we can all agree that the City and the Valentine both deserve better than the existing sub-standard structure and its surrounding parking lots.

So as part of your “Where in the World is the Valentine?” adventure, walk around the Court End Neighborhood, take a look at Richmond’s ugliest building and consider the proposed plan for the area. If we are going to make informed decisions about this important and historic neighborhood, there nothing like seeing it for yourself.

And by visiting the Valentine, you have the opportunity to learn from our city’s history, explore both our successes and our failures and put those lessons to work for our shared community.

Also, you’ll get a medal. So that alone is worth the price of admission.

“Where in the World is the Valentine?” Part 4: Cranes Find a Way

No matter how many wrong turns you make, closed sidewalks you avoid or yellow tape you ignore in your valiant attempts to find the Valentine, sooner or later, you’ll spot them. And you’re not the only one.

Be quiet! One of the new Great Yellow Cranes is roosting right in front of the Valentine.

Birdwatchers are flocking to the Valentine in the historic Court End neighborhood to get a rare glance at the new nesting area for one of the greatest of ornithological wonders: the Great Yellow Crane. While seen from time to time in other parts of the city, the Valentine is at the center of one of the largest rookeries for this amazing species.

While there are just three who have made their home nearby, we are expecting more arrivals this fall, eager to roost and change the landscape in the process. Our Great Yellow Cranes can now be seen at the construction sites of the VCU Outpatient Clinic and the Virginia General Assembly Office Building. We are also anticipating the arrival of two new chicks where the new Children’s Hospital is being built.

In fact, today we spotted the very rare Miniature Black Crane hatchling taking a rest right near the Children’s Hospital Grounds (pictured below). All of these cranes can be very large, very threatening and can sometimes make very weird sounds. They’re also very slow, so it’s easy to avoid them.

The Miniature Black Crane in its natural habitat.

But these cranes are particularly special, because they’re not from the rookery on the James River. We’re taking about construction cranes. The Valentine’s neighborhood is always undergoing some sort of change, but we are still here telling the stories of Richmond.  If you think about it, with the Virginia State Capitol, the Executive Mansion, the John Marshall House, the American Civil War Museum’s White House of the Confederacy and Monumental Church all in the same neighborhood, if we’re not the natural habitat for wild cranes, we’re definitely the natural habitat for American history.

Bring your binoculars, take some time to enjoy the “wildlife” springing up near the Valentine and remember: the cranes are more afraid of you than you are of them. Enjoy the scenery as you make your way to the Valentine; it’s all a part of the great adventure!

Discover the Valentine (and our cranes) for yourself this weekend…

“Where in the World is the Valentine?” Part 3: Walk Like an Egyptian!

Make another wrong turn trying to find the Valentine? Don’t fret, everyone does.

Not to worry; there are interesting surprises everywhere, especially in this neighborhood.

So you’re lost once again in Court End, and this time, after taking a few wrong turns, avoiding a few closed streets and trying to avoid all the large cranes (more on that in another blog post), it looks like you’ve stumbled into…Egypt?

You’re eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. You might be on a modern day street corner in Richmond in 2019, but towering before you is indeed an Ancient Egyptian Temple…sort of.

Egyptian Building, Medical College of Virginia, Late-19th century, E. Marshall and College Streets, Richmond, Virginia, Cook Collection 0800

The Egyptian Building was built in 1845 for the new Medical College of Virginia, today a part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s MCV Campus. This image is from the late-19th century and the building appears in this photo from the Cook Collection in much the same fashion as it does today.

A National Historic Landmark, the Egyptian Building is considered an important example of the Egyptian Revival style of architecture. Richmonders were fascinated by science, history and archaeology when the building was constructed, so what better way to acknowledge the early Egyptian origins of medicine than with this amazing, historic building?

If you’re fine with putting off your search for the Valentine a few more minutes, take a peek inside and amidst the shadows, you may even spot that early Egyptian physician Imhotep himself.

Take your time. Those road closures aren’t going anywhere. We’ll see you soon and once you track us down, we’ll have your medal waiting.

“Where in the World is the Valentine?” Part 2: Lincoln Lost

So you find yourself walking through historic Court End, searching for the Valentine. You’re side-stepping traffic cones and crossing the street to avoid yet another “Sidewalk Closed” sign. You’re just about to give up, when you spot something…

President Lincoln Entering Richmond, April 4, 1865, by Thomas Nast. Published in Harper’s Weekly, February 24, 1866. V.45.28.345. Hibbs Collection, The Valentine.

Did you just see Lincoln’s ghost? Who is that with him?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you did.

On April 4, 1865, as the city was still smoldering from the evacuation fires at the tail end of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad arrived in a smoldering Richmond.

Imagine what it would have been like as he walked through the streets to come to the realization that the Civil War that had consumed the city, the nation and his Presidency was finally ending. Lincoln and Tad entered the city from the James River (in the area where Bottoms Up Pizza is today) and made their way to the U. S. military headquarters that had been established in the former residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (now known as the American Civil War Museum’s White House of the Confederacy).

If you see the spirits of Lincoln and Tad wandering aimlessly as you start your visit to the Valentine, don’t worry; they’re lost just like you.

The neighborhood has changed so much since 1865 and it’s continuing to change day by day. Who knows? If you’re lucky, Lincoln’s ghost might be able to give you a few pointers on how to avoid closed sidewalks without tumbling into the road.

But as much as the Court End neighborhood has changed, you can still walk the incredible streets with all of those that built Richmond’s history and discover those stories and more at the Valentine.

If you make it, you not only receive a dose of Richmond Stories, you’ll win a medal!

“Where in the World is the Valentine?” Part 1: The Great Adventure!

This first blog by Director Bill Martin kicks off our six week “Where in the World is the Valentine?” series

Join us this summer for a great adventure to find the Valentine.  More fun than any theme park and better than the beach, we invite you discover the transformation of the VCUHealth campus and at the end of your trek find one of Richmond’s most enduring and elusive treasures…

The Valentine!

This trip to our neighborhood will be filled with off-roading, disappearing buildings, wandering spirits, obstacle courses and, of course, a decent amount of time travel. Who needs to leave town when all of this adventure is awaiting you right in your back yard (just around a few parking cones, through a road closure and past a few giant cranes, of course)?

Let’s begin with the basics. Each week, we will post an official update, providing directions on this great adventure. From there, you will enter the maze and hopefully find the parking lot at the Valentine. We’ll make sure to provide helpful (or not so helpful) hints on how to get here and who (or what) you may find along the way.

Whatever you do, don’t give up!

We will keep it simple. Here are the entry points for this week; happily ignore whatever Google Maps tells you.

From East Broad:

Take a left on 11th Street and begin your journey.  Cross Marshall Street and turn left on Clay Street.  The Wickham House and the Valentine will be on your left.   While beautiful, you will need to drive slowly.  This is where all of our schools kids on field trips enter the building.

Clay Street ends with the ugliest building in the city (pictured below), so make sure you’re not so distracted by this eye-sore that you miss the turn.  Carefully Turn left on 10th and then an immediate left into our parking lot.

From West Broad:

Take a right on 11th and follow the directions above, including the reminder to not let the ugliest building in Richmond sour your experience entirely.

From Leigh Street (the easiest option):

Turn onto 10th Street and just after you pass Clay Street (and the previously mentioned ugliest building in the city), make a left into the Valentine parking lot.

Next week, we will begin providing a few notes to guide you during your visit to the Valentine and the historic Court End Neighborhood. You never know where you might end up; how about a side trip to Egypt? But more on that later.

If you can traverse these obstacles, overcome peril and hardship, and finally reach your destination at the Valentine,  you’ll have the best fun of the summer and you will receive a medal for your bravery, courage and fortitude! Can you meet the challenge?

 

 

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?