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Tag Archives: Virginia General Assembly

- “Unwarranted, Unnecessary, Undemocratic:” The Virginia General Assembly Responds to the Proposed Nineteenth Amendment in 1919


Pickets at the White House, 1917. Harris & Ewing, photographer. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In June 1919 Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the United States guaranteeing women’s right to vote (with only one vote in favor from Virginia’s congressional delegation, Republican C. Bascom Slemp). Virginia suffrage advocates expressed their hopes that ratification would happen quickly. Equal Suffrage League of Virginia president Lila Meade Valentine rejoiced that Congress had at last taken action to “enable this nation to stand before the democracies of the world unashamed,” although she regretted that Virginia “did not long ago take the initiative” by passing an amendment to the state constitution. “I trust,” she concluded, that the General Assembly “may atone for the past neglect by being among the first to ratify the national amendment.”

Nine states ratified the amendment (often referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment) before the end of June. Although the General Assembly of Virginia was not scheduled to hold its regular session until January 1920, the governor called a special session for August 1919 to prepare a plan to take advantage of a federal grant for road construction. Suffragists in Virginia disagreed about whether to push the issue of ratification during the special session or to wait until the regular session five months later. Equal Suffrage League officers favored laying the groundwork for ratification in the regular session, but members of the Virginia branch of the … read more »

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- Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of the General Assembly of Virginia


Seal of the Governor's Council, Seventeenth century. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

The first meeting of the General Assembly of Virginia took place at the church building in Jamestown on 30 July 1619. The session lasted for four hot days, not including a Sunday. The founding of the first and oldest representative legislative body in the western hemisphere was an event of epic importance in Virginia and the United States.

It may surprise people that the records of the first General Assembly are not preserved in the Virginia state archives, which are in the Library of Virginia in Richmond. There are two important reasons why that is not the case.

The first reason is that the General Assembly was not technically a governmental institution. It was a new instrument that the Virginia Company of London created to manage its small settlement in the New World. Consequently, the records belonged to the company, a chartered speculative investment enterprise that operated under a royal charter and had settled the colony.

The other reason is that any copies of the 1619 documents that may have remained in the General Assembly’s possession would have been destroyed along with most of the legislative and executive records of the colony in one of the British raids on Richmond during the American Revolution. In fact, histories of Virginia written before that time suggest that no copy was in the colony even then. The one … read more »

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- The Remarkable Hodges Family of Princess Anne County and Norfolk


Caricature of Willis A. Hodges published in Richmond Southern Opinion, December 21, 1867.

During the night of 23 April 1829, six African American men made a daring escape from the Norfolk County jail. One of them was William Johnson Hodges, a free man suspected of forging free papers and passes for enslaved Virginians. In this case, he had been convicted of changing the amount owed on a bill for another man and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He fled to Canada and later settled in Brooklyn.

 The Hodges family of Princess Anne County and Norfolk played an important role in Virginia’s postbellum political landscape. Four members of the family are included as part of the Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography project in collaboration with Encyclopedia Virginia to document the lives of African American legislators and members of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868.

William Johnson Hodges was the eldest son of Charles Augustus Hodges and his second wife, Julia Nelson Willis Hodges, free African Americans of mixed-race ancestry. Julia’s father was a white man who reportedly served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The family was one of the more prosperous of the free black families in Princess Anne County. Charles Hodges purchased three farms and his own father’s freedom, and arranged for his children’s education. At some point, almost every member of the family moved to New York to avoid the discrimination and … read more »

- Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Legislative Petitions for Divorce


The Bottle, Plate VI. “Fearful Quarrels, and Brutal Violence, are the Natural Consequenes of the Frequent Use of the Bottle,” 1847. Lithograph by D. W. Moody after etchings by George Cruikshank. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In this age of no-fault divorce, it is hard to imagine that from 1776 to 1826 the only means of divorce in Virginia was by petitioning the General Assembly. Petitions on various subjects were the commonwealth’s main source of legislation in the antebellum era. County and city courts began to grant divorces in 1827, but until 1852 the state legislature still accepted petitions for divorce. During the years when the legislature was the only recourse for those seeking divorce, only a fifth of petitioners obtained a divorce or legal separation.

Today’s blog post looks at two divorce petitions to the General Assembly from Winchester residents. The first is from Amelia M. Alexander.  The petition, presented to the House of Delegates on 13 December 1825 and filed under Frederick County, tells her tale of woe in language worthy of a novel of that day. “During the year 18[--] whilst she resided in the District of Columbia,” she had married John Alexander. “She was then young and knew naught of the sorrows of life; she was full of hope and full of joy. To poverty and its attendant miseries she had ever been a stranger … But alas! She has since too fatally discovered that lifes enchanted cup but sparkles at the brim. Disaster after disaster ensued.” Within a few months of marriage, she discovered that John … read more »

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- “Objection, Mr. Chairman!” – The Opening Session of the 1998 House of Delegates


The 1998 House of Delegates, Library of Virginia Special Collections, Prints & Photographs.

With the Virginia House of Delegates almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats when it convenes on Wednesday, 10 January 2018, Out of the Box decided to spotlight Library of Virginia records related to that last time the chamber was tied in 1998. A recent Washington Post article described the 14 January 1998 opening session of the House of Delegates as an “ugly spectacle.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch called it a “parliamentary WrestleMania.” You can now see for yourself. The Library has added video of a portion of this session to our YouTube Channel. The video is part of the recordings of the Virginia House of Delegates sessions, 1982-2011 (accession 50627) housed at the Library.

After the 1997 general election, the Democrats held a 51-48 majority in the House of Delegates with one independent. Republican Governor-elect James Gilmore (1998-2002) appointed two state senators, Joseph B. Benedetti (R) and Charles L. Waddell (D) and one Democratic delegate, David G. Brickley to positions in his administration. The appointments set off a chain-reaction of House and Senate special elections which culminated in the Republicans gaining one additional house seat. With independent delegate Lacey E. Putney agreeing to caucus with Republicans, the chamber would be tied when the session began. However, the State Board of Elections refused to accelerate certification of the Republican delegates elected in three 13 January … read more »

- It Came From YouTube!: the State Records Film Collection


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Have you ever been curious about the birds who call Virginia home? Or wanted to explore the history of Richmond? Or maybe take a closer look at the administration of Governor Linwood Holton? Or perhaps catch a view of the early years of Pony Penning Day in Chincoteague? If so, check out the State Government Records Collection Playlist on the Library of Virginia’s YouTube channel.

The Library of Virginia has a small collection of motion picture films that were created for K-12 classroom education or for other documentary purposes. These films were originally part of a circulating collection managed by the Library, providing libraries, public schools, and the general public with educational film resources. Some of the films are informative, some are entertaining, and some are just plain outdated, but all provide a glimpse into what students may have been learning in classrooms across the state before filmstrips went the way of the typewriter and the mimeograph machine. The following films have been digitized and are now available online:

See the collection’s finding aid for more … read more »

- Drink Wet and Vote Dry

One of the hallmarks of the age of Prohibition is a certain level of contradiction. After all, the country was supposed to be entirely dry; the 18th amendment, passed in 1920, prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages. And yet the 1920s are best remembered for the culture of speakeasies and flappers, flasks hidden in garters or walking sticks, and bootleggers, mobsters, and moonshiners. The prohibition movement had always been dogged by the hypocritical beliefs of political leaders who supported the general outlawing of alcohol but saw no reason to restrict their own consumption. Even Governor Harry F. Byrd, who was personally a “dry,” knew how to procure a supply of brandy for Winston Churchill’s visit to the Executive Mansion in October 1929.

 

This disparity was publicly called out in April 1930, when Vivian L. Page, a member of the House of Delegates from Norfolk, claimed that the House of Delegates would be overwhelmingly wet if a secret ballot were taken, and that he had personally “drunk with 95 per cent of the delegates.” The statement was reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch the next day and caused something of an uproar. Reverend David Hepburn, the superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of Virginia, wrote an angry letter to Governor John Garland Pollard, complaining both about the flagrant violations of the Prohibition Law by … read more »

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- Ten Paces! Fire!

On 28 November 1818, John McCarty of Loudoun County wrote a short letter to the Speaker of the House of Delegates of Virginia, declining the seat he had recently been elected to in that body. The reason? Since his election, he had accepted a challenge from his cousin, U. S. Senator Armistead T. Mason, and would therefore be unable to take the required oath against dueling.

 

Arising from the practices of European nobility, for many years dueling was a surprisingly frequent occurrence in American life—and politics. In a society pervaded by ideas of honor and reputation, disputes that started in the political realm quickly turned personal, and it was far from rare for politicians to engage in so-called “affairs of honor;” the Hamilton-Burr duel is only one of the most famous examples.

Politics were also at the root of the disagreement between John Mason McCarty and his cousin, Armistead Thompson Mason. The two men already had an acrimonious political relationship, stemming from a contentious election where McCarty supported Federalist Charles Fenton Mercer over the Democratic-Republican Mason for a seat in the House of Representatives. Although Mason was selected to serve in the U. S. Senate, McCarty and Mason continued to take potshots at each other in the press, publishing numerous letters in the Leesburg newspaper The Genius of Liberty. In May 1818, the … read more »

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- Ten Years Burning Down the Road: Web Archiving at LVA


Gov. Mark R. Warner (left) and U.S. Sen. John Warner (second from left) tour an intake center and temporary shelter for Gulf Coast hurricane evacuees at Fort Pickett Army National Guard Base near Blackstone, Virginia, on Friday, Sept. 9, 2005. Governor Warner says Fort Pickett and the nearby Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center are ready to house up to 1,400 evacuees, offering them medical, educational and social services at the base before dispatching them to longer term housing at the church center and other locations. From the archived version of www.governor.virginia.gov, captured Sept. 19, 2005.

September 2015 marks the ten year anniversary of web archiving at the Library of Virginia. In the fall of 2005, the Library partnered with the Internet Archive for a pilot program using their new web archiving tool, Archive-It (AI). The pilot program ran from September to November 2005 and captured the websites of Governor Mark Warner’s administration, campaign web sites for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and selected Virginia political blogs. After the successful completion of the pilot program, the Library used funding provided by Congress for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) to subscribe to Archive-It. Over the past ten years, the Library has created 21 collections containing over 3000 URLS and has crawled over 89 million documents and 5.1 terabytes of data. Following the Library’s web archiving collection guidelines, the Virginia Web Archive includes the web content of Virginia State Government and Virginia’s political leaders.

Some notable collections include:

This collection preserves the web sites that document Virginia’s November 2005 state-wide election. Included are former Governor Mark Warner’s website, the first lady’s website, the Virginia Democratic and Republican Party websites, as well as sites for the candidates for the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Also included are blogs related to the election, websites of cabinet secretaries, and sites for Warner

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- A Day in the Archives with Who Do You Think You Are?


Archival stacks.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was called to a meeting in the Library’s Special Collections reading room on a busy day in September 2014. A certain amount of skullduggery and mystery surrounded the parlay with staff from a yet-to-be-identified TV show about genealogy. Already other Library of Virginia staff members had unearthed a set of documents that related to a certain Benjamin Sharpe from a remote section of Virginia. I was to provide context with a few of my colleagues. The meeting went smoothly enough—a free-ranging discussion of the election of 1800, life in a remote section of Virginia, and slavery in the Appalachian region. Did I know a historian who could speak on camera with the show’s star for filming? Certainly. I recommended a few names and returned to my work.

A few days later the e-mail arrived. Would I be the foil for the unnamed actor? I was surprised and flattered, as I recall, but also a bit wary of the assignment. Having some familiarity with shows of this type, I felt hesitant. Such TV episodes, like a movie or any other kind of storytelling, must have a narrative arc. Having been a “talking head” for many documentaries and short media pieces, I realized that my part would be boiled down and edited to serve that narrative. I do the … read more »

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