Edith Shelton Collection
The Valentine has another great photograph collection to share with the world! Donated by Mrs. Edgar Fisher, Jr. in 1991, the Edith K. Shelton Slide Collection is now ready for on line viewing. The collection of just over 3,000 35mm color slides is a glimpse into the architecture and life of Richmond’s older neighborhoods, often ones that have been demolished by road or building projects.
The Valentine has another great photograph collection to share with the world! Donated by Mrs. Edgar Fisher, Jr. in 1991, the Edith K. Shelton Slide Collection is now ready for on line viewing. The collection of just over 3,000 35mm color slides is a glimpse into the architecture and life of Richmond’s older neighborhoods, often ones that have been demolished by road or building projects. The slides are still colorful and vibrant after nearly sixty years. A majority of the slides were taken in the 1950s, with the rest being taken in the 1970s and 1980s (none in the group date to the 1960s). Miss Shelton roamed the entire city of Richmond during her photography jaunts, however, her focus was clearly the Jackson Ward and Carver neighborhoods during the 1950s, a time when this area was drastically altered by highway construction; nearly a third of the slides in the Valentine collection focus on this area alone. In addition to Jackson Ward and Carver, Miss Shelton favored the Fan District, Church Hill, Union Hill, Gamble’s Hill, the Financial District, the riverfront area and the city center, which make up just over 40 percent of the collection. Shockoe Slip, Bottom and Valley, along with Monroe Ward, Oregon Hill, Court End and French Garden Hill make up the bulk of collection. Rarely did Miss Shelton cross the Boulevard, the James River or venture into the North Side on her travels.
But who was this woman and why was she taking all these photographs? Edith Keesee Shelton was born in Richmond in 1898 to Edith Morton Keesee and W. Penick Shelton, a banker. She attended Miss Morris’s School for Girls, and then went to Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, where she played basketball, was a member of Phi Mu sorority, and was voted “most boyish” by her peers. She graduated in 1918 with a degree in Latin, and returned home to live with her parents in an apartment at 1001 W. Franklin Street (the Raleigh Building). She did not start working until about 1927, when she became an assistant secretary at the University of Richmond. She continued to work at the University until retiring in 1969 as a “cashier” in the Treasurer’s Department. Her father died in 1929, followed by her mother in 1950. After her mother’s death, Miss Shelton lived alone in a series of apartments in the Fan District, until her death in 1989.
What makes a university secretary and cashier spend all her spare time (and likely money) traipsing through “old” and sometimes rough neighborhoods of Richmond? Why did she take these images? What was she using them for? When the slides were donated to the Valentine, they came with individual index cards describing each one; she must have had a plan – she was not just a casual observer. As a member of the Valentine Museum, the Virginia Historical Society and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, she obviously had an appreciation of the past, and a burning desire to document some of it!
Thanks to the generosity of The Universal Leaf Foundation, which funded this project, and to Mrs. Elise H. Wright, who worked on initial inventory, the job of cataloging the collection was decidedly easy, but time consuming! Some of the images are repetitive; however, most are unique and often quite whimsical. Miss Shelton had a fondness for horses, young children and cars, all of which make an appearance in her works. Though quite visually appealing, her images will also serve as an invaluable resource to those interested in the history of Richmond neighborhoods, businesses and buildings, many of which are no longer in existence.