In 1936, in honor of her diligent reform work for better education and health care and for all her efforts to promote woman suffrage, the Virginia General Assembly placed a memorial plaque for Lila Meade Valentine in the State Capitol. She is the only woman honored in this fashion and the inscription under her name and life dates reads, "Great in Mind and Soul / And in Service to Humanity / Leader in Virginia / for the / Enfranchisement of Women. Sculpted by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth and made from marble, the plaque honoring Valentine is graces the wall of the chamber of the House of Delegates on the second floor of the State Capitol.
In 1909, Valentine cofounded the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. As state president of the league she gave more than one hundred speeches in Virginia supporting suffrage, as well as in New Jersey, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The United States Constitution was amended in 1920 granting woman suffrage, but Valentine died the following year, before she had an opportunity to vote in a Virginia election. Although Valentine and other supporters of woman suffrage were ultimately successful, they endured great opposition from antisuffragists. Even after her death, Valentine's efforts for woman suffrage fell under attack. In 1926 people opposed to woman suffrage protested the proposed memorial in honor of Valentine.
Harriet Whitney Frishmuth was born on September 17, 1880, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She spent much of her childhood in France and Germany and studied art in Paris and Berlin and at the Art Students League of New York. Frishmuth excelled at bronze sculpture and enjoyed depicting the female form. While women were agitating for rights and suffrage, Frishmuth's career was at a peak. She joined a group known as the Philadelphia Ten, an association of women artists who from 1917 to 1945 to worked together to exhibit their artwork and support each other in a largely male-dominated field. While her popularity waned with the economic downturn of the Great Depression, Frishmuth continued sculpting for many years. She died in 1980.
The Valentine plaque is a bas-relief sculpture, which was made by carving a slab of marble to make the image that stands out from a two-dimensional background. The technique is also called low-relief sculpture: "bas" is French for low. A similar technique is high relief in which the image stands further out from the background. An ancient practice used by the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and many others, bas relief often appears as architectural decoration. In the United States, high and bas-relief sculpture first became popular when Italian sculptors decorated federal government buildings at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
1. Who was Lila Meade Valentine?
2. Describe bas-relief sculpture.
1. Why are there so few statuary tributes to Virginia women? If you could erect a statue to a woman in Virginia history, who would it be and where would you place the statue?
Proske, Beatrice Gilman. "Harriet Whitney Frishmuth—Lyric Sculptor." Aristos, the Journal of Ethics 2, no. 5 (June 1984): 4.
Taylor, Lloyd C., Jr. "Lila Meade Valentine: The FFV as Reformer." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 70, no. 4 (October, 1962): 471–487.
Coleman, Elizabeth Dabney. "Genteel Crusader: Lila Meade Valentine Fought the Good Fight for Woman's Rights." Virginia Cavalcade 4, no. 2, (Autumn 1954): 29–32.
Graham, Sara Hunter. "Woman Suffrage in Virginia: The Equal Suffrage League and Pressure-Group Politics, 1909–1920." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 101, no. 2 (April, 1993): 227–250.