Virginia women were involved in many aspects of public life long before gaining the right to vote in 1920. Women were influential leaders and diplomats in the Powhatan chiefdom. Their voices were heard even without the franchise. In the seventeenth century Lady Frances Berkeley made Green Spring the headquarters for burgesses and councillors who opposed the Crown's policies, and in the eighteenth century Hannah Lee Corbin boldly proposed that women who paid taxes should be allowed to vote.
Women were energetic volunteers and able fund-raisers, sewing clothes for the needy, raising money for orphanages, and supporting female missionaries. They petitioned the General Assembly seeking legislative action, financial aid, and divorce. As early as the 1840 presidential election, they were active in political campaigns and participated in debates on the most important issues of the day—among them slavery, temperance, and education. They penned letters to the governor requesting pardons, appointments to office, and assistance.
It is no coincidence that after women won the vote in 1920, city, county, and state governments in Virginia created or expanded social service agencies, developed public health departments, enlarged educational opportunities, and began to break down the class and racial lines that had divided Virginians.