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Tag Archives: Norfolk

- “Legislative Debutantes”: 95 Years of Women in Virginia’s House of Delegates

In 2018 a record number of women took their seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, bringing the total number of women who have served in that body to 91. The women who inaugurated this small (but growing) group were elected 95 years ago, on 6 November 1923. On that day, Helen Moore Timmons Henderson of Buchanan County and Sarah Lee Oden’hal Fain of Norfolk became the first women to win election to the General Assembly. Women in Virginia had gained the right to vote and run for office three years earlier, when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August 1920. Tens of thousands of women registered and voted that fall thanks to special legislation the assembly had passed in January 1920.

 

Virginia women were quick to jump into politics as candidates for office. In 1921 at least six women entered races for the House of Delegates. Two lost in Democratic Party primaries. Election statements in the Secretary of the Commonwealth records (available for research at the Library with a finding aid in the Manuscripts Room) show that four other women were defeated in the general election. Three women also ran for statewide office that year and lost: Maggie Lena Walker was the candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on the “lily black” Republican ticket, Elizabeth Lewis Otey was the candidate for the … read more »

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- “Of Liquid Death, To Which Men Flee:” Temperance Reform Efforts in Antebellum Norfolk

Restricting the use of alcohol was not a novel idea in the Roaring Twenties when Prohibition banned illicit spirits nationwide. Inspired by the reforming impulses of the Second Great Awakening, civic leaders across the country prior to the Civil War worked to curb alcohol consumption, which they viewed as a threat to the individual and society. One temperance advocate wrote, in the 18 March 1847 issue of the American Beacon and Norfolk and Portsmouth Daily Advertiser, that great efforts were needed for the “extermination of the ruinous flood which belches forth from the distillery, the extinguishment of the liquid fire, which has so long been the devil’s chief instrument in peopling jails, alms houses, hospitals, jails, grave-yards, and the bottomless pit.” By eliminating one of the root causes of society’s ills—drunkenness—businessmen, religious leaders, and reformers sought to help the intemperate become productive members of society and by extension elevate the community.

 

Norfolk’s stagnant economy during the 1840s and 1850s pushed local boosters to embrace temperance organizations to help revive the city’s fortunes. By November 1841 teetotalers could attend a meeting of the Norfolk Total Abstinence Society and five years later the Young Men’s Temperance Society was organized. Reformers aimed their efforts at males arriving in the seaport who might be open to temptation and vice; during this period it would be unthinkable that … read more »

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- First Freedom: The Great Sabbath Debate, Part 2


Arrest Warrant, Charles Bibbins, 1909, Commonwealth v. A. Berson, et. als., Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Court Records, Criminal Papers, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In last week’s blog post, we learned about the efforts of two Richmond businessmen who lobbied to add an exception for non-Christians to Virginia’s Sabbath breaking law. An early 20th century criminal cause found in the Norfolk County (Chesapeake) court records illustrates that even this exception did not fully clarify the crime of violating the Sabbath.

Charles Bibbins and 27 other Norfolk County men employed by the Eustis Smelting Works were found guilty by a justice of the peace for violation of the Sabbath (Commonwealth v. A. Berson, et. als.). They appealed their convictions to the Norfolk County circuit court. The defendants were not being accused of “laboring at [their] own, or any other trade, or calling” on a Sunday, as Messrs. Levy and Ezekiel were in 1837. Rather they were convicted of being “engaged in business as merchandise merchants […] after sunset on Saturday and during the day commonly known as Sunday.” In essence, they were accused of violating “the exemption as to the Jews” by resuming their work on Saturday night rather than waiting for Sunday.

The case resulted in a ten-page opinion from the ironically named Judge J. T. Lawless, written in the form of an abbreviated dissertation on the history of the Sabbath. His Honor contended that prior to the enactment of the 1779 law by the General Assembly, “[a]t … read more »

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