Lila Hardaway Meade was born on February 4, 1865, to a well-to-do family in Richmond. Her parents were Richard Hardaway Meade and Jane Catherine Fontaine Meade. While she received the formal education that was standard for a woman of her class, she read avidly and wanted to attend college, a dream that remained unfulfilled. In 1886, she married Benjamin Batchelder Valentine. A wealthy businessman, he supported his wife's pursuits on behalf of education, health-care reform, and woman suffrage until his death in 1919. Lila Valentine delivered a stillborn child in 1888, and her health suffered afterwards. The couple had no surviving children. Valentine's husband described her as “a flower gently moving in the wind” and as a “piece of Dresden China.” Although typifying the ideal of a southern lady, Valentine was unafraid to speak out on behalf of issues about which she felt passionate.
Valentine began her work on behalf of better education for minority children and women in 1900 when she helped form the Richmond Education Association. During her tenure as president of the REA from 1900 to 1904 she helped fund a new high school, advocated for improved training and wages for teachers, and created initiatives to improve the quality of public education for all of Richmond's children. In an effort to improve health care in Richmond for lower income families, Valentine helped found the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association of Richmond in 1902 and two years later became its president. While serving as president, she and the IVNA led a program to fight tuberculosis. In 1904 ill health forced Valentine to step down from her various leadership positions.
During a trip to England as she recovered, she observed the English woman suffrage movement. In 1909 Valentine became a cofounder and the first president of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia. She believed that an electorate that included women would better support her other two passions, education and healthcare reform. From 1912 to 1913 Valentine traveled the state of Virginia giving more than a hundred speeches supporting woman suffrage. She also spoke in New Jersey, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. After Virginia failed to adopt an amendment to the state constitution in 1916 granting women the right to vote, Valentine and others focused their attention on securing an amendment to the United States Constitution. In August 1920, Valentine saw the realization of her life's work when the requisite number of states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. Even then, however, the Virginia General Assembly did not ratify the amendment until 1952. Suffering from ill health for much of her life, Valentine lived to see women vote in November 1920, but she died on July 14, 1921, before women had campaigned and won election to public office in Virginia.
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Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. “Working Out Her Destiny.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 100, no. 1 (January 1992): 99–118.