July 20, 2018
When we think about what we know about history and the events that led to the formation of the United States, key dates like 1492 and 1776 come to mind. Many people don’t know that 1619 was another of those pivotal years that continue to shape our lives.
In 1619 English women were recruited in large numbers to settle in Virginia’s Jamestown colony. The purpose of bringing them to the colony was to fill the roles of wives and mothers, because leaders thought family life was key to developing permanence that would make the colony strong.
Not only was 1619 the year for recruiting women to stabilize Jamestown, but it was the year when the first African men and women arrived by slave ship to English North America. These pivotal events from 400 years ago led to the convergence of three distinct cultures in Virginia for the first time — English, African and Native American.
Though marginalized for more than three centuries, Virginia women persevered and established their own extraordinary legacy. You don’t always see the incredible women who helped shape Virginia in the pages of history books. But there are plenty of places to visit around Virginia where their inspiring stories can be heard and remembered.
We all grew up with the myth of Pocahontas, the story of a brave Powhatan tween who stood up to her father to save John Smith from execution. (In reality, that was more likely a ritual, not a real threat.) Experience the rest of her groundbreaking life at Jamestown Settlement. For example, as a young woman, Pocahontas was traded to the English settlers, where she changed her name to Rebecca. Eventually, she married and traveled across the Atlantic to meet with English dignitaries to help promote the Virginia colony.
When Clementina Rind took over as editor and publisher of her husband’s newspaper in Colonial Williamsburg, the Virginia Gazette, it matured into a publication that gave voice to women and offered its readers expanded new worlds of thought and ideas. She published articles about scientific discoveries and education, along with literary essays and poems — some of which celebrated women. She also printed a key pamphlet of Thomas Jefferson’s that went down in history as critical to the independence movement. Discover more about her story at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
Did you know female patriots have served our country since the American Revolution? The U.S. Army Women’s Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia, is the only museum dedicated to women in service and offers a look at their lives of bravery and sacrifice. One of these women was Margaret Corbin, America’s first servicewoman. When her husband was killed in the American Revolution, she took his place on the battlefield, firing cannons at the enemy.
As the wife of a U.S. President, Dolley Madison’s role was that of a supporter, hostess and first lady. But these labels of the day undermine her strengths and accomplishments. The modern term “influencer” suits her better, and she embodies that title in more ways than one. She was the most powerful woman in Washington, D.C., and she also led the way in establishing a sense of style in furniture and dress for a new nation that was still forging its own identity. When she died a widow at age 82, she was arguably the most famous woman in the U.S. The power couple’s plantation house, Montpelier, is an essential Virginia destination that celebrates her accomplishments.