Here editor Annie Werner road trips through Virginia to honor women’s history—and those who have been left out of it. Plus, the only itinerary you’ll need for a route through Virginia Wine Country, Charlottesville, and Richmond.
“I hate the term ‘Founding Fathers,’” says Elizabeth Chew, Chief Curator at James Madison’s Montpelier estate in Virginia. “Yes, they were all men, but do we really have to rub it in?”
It’s a sentiment that’s been mounting for centuries. Men consistently parade through our history books and remain overwhelmingly at the center of cultural narratives. But this year, 2020, was meant to shift the spotlight for once: to celebrations for the 100 year anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The amendment, which prohibits the government from denying a person the right to vote on the basis of sex, was ratified on August 18th, 1920, and for the past few years, tourism boards, historic sites, and women’s organizations across the U.S. had poured heartfelt resources and hours upon hours of planning into commemorating the anniversary of women’s suffrage in America.
Land was cleared to erect statues in the name of famous suffragists; educational programming was set up to draw tourists to lesser-known historic sites important to the movement. In Fairfax County, Virginia, $850,000 was secured for a large-scale monument along the commonwealth’s Constitution Trail commemorating all suffragists—known as the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, it was to be the first of its kind to acknowledge the contributions of all women in the movement, as opposed to a few particular figures. They had even scored a piece of the White House fence where activists picketed to be part of the display. Typically relegated to a Susan B. Anthony footnote in standard history books, the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century was finally going to get its overdue credit—and tourism was set to play a major role in its celebration.
Then the pandemic hit the U.S. in March. The White House fence remains in storage. Calendars of events were erased or converted into Zoom seminars. And the majority of funding, which is just about everything in the historic monument biz, was rescinded.
Of course, as the country settled into socially-distant pandemic life, there were bigger problems to address. Vast economic disparities were thrown into relief as the 1% escaped to their second homes and many working class people, disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, were left without jobs or access to healthcare. Then in late May, the murders of Ahmaud Arbury, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor reignited tensions over the deep-seated racial inequality faced by the country’s Black community, catalyzing protests across all 50 states that continue today in the face of the world’s largest health crisis.
As the August anniversary quietly approached, the question stood out like a hot pink pussy hat: Is the anniversary of the 19th Amendment worth celebrating?
It is not lost on historians that non-white women were largely left out of the advancements the historic amendment made. While states were no longer allowed to deny voting rights based on sex, they could still impose economic restrictions and literacy tests that marginalized the poor and people of color. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that those limitations were lifted—and there is still much work to be done in terms of extended voting rights to all citizens, particularly felons, permanent legal residents (AKA immigrants), and those affected by egregious voter ID laws and other forms of suppression.
In the face of recent events, the 19th Amendment is a stark reminder that women’s liberation movements throughout history haven’t always included all women, a trend that continues in the present day. An image that has stuck with me for years is a photo I saw from the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. Towering over the sea of pink, a resolute Black woman holds up a protest sign that reads: “I”ll see all you nice white ladies at the next BLM rally, right?”
Perhaps the pandemic’s blow to the 19th Amendment’s anniversary celebration was more of a soft landing, a chance to examine the history and learn from its victories as much as its mistakes. Now that the anniversary date has come and gone, the only way to honor this history is to continue to ask ourselves: What is worth celebrating and what can we do better now?
“We must find opportunity in the chaos of what’s broken,” says Sara Bon-Harper, Executive Director of the Monroe Highland just outside Charlottesville, which is just one of the Virginia institutions working to de-center prominent American male figures and fill out the story of their lives with the stories of their wives, mothers, and the people they enslaved. “History must start from a place of truth,” Bon-Harper says.
“We are uplifting these stories into the larger narrative of American history.”
Perhaps no state is more entangled with the history of the nation than the one nicknamed “Mother of Presidents,” but the women of Virginia are busy rewriting the terms of the commonwealth’s past—and its present. Virginia’s infamous tobacco fields now give way to modern vineyards, with a high average of women-led operations; and as the former capital of the Confederacy, today the Southern state plays an important role in the Black Lives Matter movement—a movement conceived of and led by Black women—providing a wealth of stories about the lives of Black people in the South throughout history.
“These stories [of Black women] are not stories that you’re going to easily find,” says Andrea Johnson, Executive Director of the Jefferson School Heritage Center in Charlottesville, which is home to multidisciplinary exhibitions and programming that celebrate local African American history along with the arts and culture of the African diaspora. “Where we are today is that we are uplifting these stories into the larger narrative of American history,” Johnson says.
Though an educational road trip in the middle of a pandemic certainly came with its challenges, there’s still something to be said for physically visiting sites of historical significance—and in a place like Virginia, there’s something to be gleaned around every corner.
Day 1: Fairfax County to Loudoun County Virginia
Do: My first stop was the Workhouse Art Center in Fairfax County, where I was confronted with my own extremely vague knowledge of suffrage history. A former prison that jailed suffragist activists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) who picketed the White House in 1917, the center is now a multipurpose art facility that includes the Lucy Burns Museum’s two-room exhibit on the suffragists imprisoned on site and their infamous hunger strike—a level of badassery I had never attributed to the movement. I was also pleasantly surprised by images of their sassy protest signs (one held by Virginia Arnold addresses President Woodrow Wilson as “Kaiser Wilson”). Opened in 2018 ahead of the 100 year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the museum’s most significant historical artifact is the prison catalog, which lists every suffragist activist jailed at the Lorton Workhouse Prison.
Absent from this list are any activists of color—something the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial just a short drive away was meant to supplement. Acknowledged in the exhibit’s fine print is the fact that Black women were denied membership to NAWSA. Even in the historic women’s march ahead of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913, Black women activists were relegated to the rear of the protest line. The museum provides a take-home printout titled, “The Vote That Wasn’t Theirs,” which highlights the contributions of non-white suffragists, including D.C.-area activists like Nannie Helen Burroughs and Mary Church Terrell. It feels like a paltry showcase compared to the lifesize statues honoring Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, but it’s a start.
Eat: On my way out to Middleburg, I stopped at Ono Brewing, which offers self-serve small-batch brews on tap along with delicious BBQ (a fitting inaugural Southern meal). Ono is co-owned by Cyndi Hoffman, who’s background in biology boosts the inventive nature of the brewery. Extended outdoor seating available.
Stay: Nestled on the outskirts of historic Middleburg in the heart of Virginia’s growing wine country, Salamander Resort & Spa features a sprawling equestrian facility along with hiking and bike trails for visitors. Owned by BET co-founder Sheila Johnson, Salamander is the perfect spot to relax and take in the beautiful Virginia countryside.
Other highlights: I drove down from New York City and stopped in Wilmington, Delaware, for lunch—the almost exact midway point—at the aptly named Centreville Cafe, owned and operated by Susan Teiser and serving a lovely afternoon tea outdoors.
Day 2: Middleburg, VA
Do: Day One of touring Virginia Wine Country. The wine industry has been here since the 70s, but has really taken off in the last 10 years. One of the benefits to being a new, relatively nimble wine market is that there is more room for newcomers on the scene, which can be partially credited for the high number of women-led operations in the commonwealth. Cana Vineyards, just a 10-minute drive from Salamander, is one such operation. Winemaker Melanie Natoli, Virginia’s first Woman Winemaker of the Year, is responsible for the vineyard’s focus on exceptional rosé—a wine for which there is a huge market, especially among women, but is often dismissed as an unserious variety in the wine world. Rosé is often produced as a wine-making afterthought, a vineyard’s disappointing reds relegated to its production, but Natoli grows her grapes with the very intention of making delicious rosé wines (among others) that can be enjoyed on the beautiful property overlooking the rolling Virginia countryside.
Just down the road is Chrysalis Vineyards, owned by Jennifer McCloud, which specializes in the Norton grape, one of the few wine-growing grapes native to the U.S. The vineyard also boasts a dairy farm and creamery for homemade cheeses to enjoy on site. Chrysalis currently offers woodfired pizzas and paninis for snacking as well.
Eat: The Salamander Resort’s Harrimans Piedmont Grill will not disappoint. While I love an all-day rosé tasting, it certainly calls for a hearty center-cut filet with Salamander Bearnaise sauce for dinner. Patio seating available.
Stay: Another night at Salamander Resort & Spa.
Day 3: Wine Country to Charlottesville
Do/Eat: I made my way down to Charlottesville with pit stops at three more women-led wineries. It probably comes as no surprise that the wine industry, a historically Eurocentric endeavor, has few women of color in the business, and this unfortunate truth extends to Virginia as well. Narmada Winery in Amissville is a glowing exception, where the wine and food is greatly influenced by the Indian heritage of its founders. Part of a husband-and-wife duo, winemaker Dr. Sudha Patil’s background in chemistry enhances the production of the wine as well as the property’s seasonal landscaping. Sipping a sweet and slightly smoky rose while nibbling on vegetable samosas is a welcome unique experience.
Next up is Early Mountain Vineyards, a highly decorated winery in the global wine scene and voted the number one tasting room in the nation by USA Today in 2016. Originally known for its classic Bordeaux-type varietals (Virginia is geographically and climatologically similar to the famous French region), Early Mountain has been equally renowned for its pioneering Malvasia Bianca and Petit Manseng in the region. The sophisticated food menu includes refined southern classics like pimento cheese alongside yellowtail ceviche and green beans with shaved foie gras. Also owned by a husband-and-wife team, Early Mountain’s Director of Marketing Aileen Sevier is the only female in the Mid-Atlantic region currently partaking the prestigious Master of Wine program.
Over at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, Lynn Easton is a legend in the Virginia hospitality industry, and Pippin Hill is one of the top wedding venues in the commonwealth. But don’t let the prestige fool you—Pippin Hill follows the tradition of casual Virginia wineries, where picnic tables and foldout chairs are not uncommon. One of the best things about the Virginia wine scene is its accessibility (in both presentation and price point) that is absent in wine countries like Napa or Southern France. You could bring the whole family and knock ‘em back for hours.
Stay: Oh, the Quirk Hotel in Charlottesville. A beautiful, retro-inspired respite after a long day’s journey. Co-owned by Katie Ukrop, who also lends her curatorial touch to the property’s emphasis on contemporary art, the Quirk is a design-lover’s paradise. Don’t miss rooftop views of the Blue Ridge Mountains paired with some excellent cocktails and small plates for sharing.
Other highlights: If three vineyards in a day is a little too heavy on the vino for you, you’ll be passing along the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, which is ripe with scenic overlooks and hiking trails.
Day 4: Charlottesville
Do: It may seem like a bit of a departure to visit the homes of past presidents (all male! still!) on a women’s history trip, but as in many other cases, women here have taken on the responsibility of interpreting and telling their stories to the world. Such is the case at the Monroe Highland, the restored residence and farmland where the fifth president’s family lived for generations along with dozens of slaves—even as he called for the abolition of slavery. For a little over two years now, Executive Director Sara Bon-Harper has managed a slave descendent advisory panel that has been given priority in shaping the programming and use of the vast outdoor space that includes hiking trails and a small animal farm.
You may have seen certain celebrities and influencers come under fire for hosting lavish weddings on former plantations, and there has been much discussion on the merits of hosting celebrations of any kind on sites of generational trauma. When this topic came up with the Monroe Highland descendent advisory board, it was decided that given the ongoing work of valuable, historical truth-telling happening on the property, it was acceptable and in fact necessary to incur the revenue that weddings provide. Which just goes to show: Moving forward can take many forms—as long as you are having a dialogue with the people most impacted by its implications.
Next, make your way over to the University of Virginia, where the recently-unveiled Memorial to Enslaved Laborers pays tribute to the institution’s history of enslavement. Carved into the stone of the structure are the eyes of Isabella Gibbons, who taught herself to read and write while enslaved by a professor at UVA, along with an inscribed portion of an 1867 letter she wrote that was published in the New England Freedman’s Aid Society. In a different portion of that same letter, she excoriates the “yankees” who fought for the freedom of enslaved people, but not their right to vote. “If the Northern people who have given their life’s blood for our liberty are not our friends, where can we find them?” she writes.
Gibbons eventually established a school for freed slaves post-emancipation. Later she became the first Black woman teacher in the Virginia public school system, and taught at the segregated schools until her death. The local history and genealogy wing of the Jefferson School Heritage Center is named in her honor. “Her story is insight into the mind of a suffragist,” says Executive Director Andrea Johnson.
Eat: Not far from the Monroe Highland is Michie Tavern (offering takeout), which serves standard pub fare and local brews on tap while preserving its 18th century charm. Nearby Carter Mountain Orchard also has a grill and the benefit of freshly picked apples and/or peaches along with sweeping views of Charlottesville. Near the UVA campus, try Mel’s Cafe for your Southern food fix.
Stay: Another night at Quirk Hotel, which is just across the street from the Jefferson School Heritage Center, in the area known as Vinegar Hill. This neighborhood was once a thriving Black community that built itself from the ground up during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War—a time when the population of Charlottesville was 52% Black. “If you look around the neighborhood,” says Andrea Johnson, “the visibility of that community is lost.”
But that is something that Johnson’s center is trying to correct, as well as help people understand how deliberately those communities were erased by “urban renewal” projects. “So much of the history of enslavement is centered around what happened at Monticello, what happened at Montpelier,” says Johnson. “But that’s only a small part of the story of enslavement and the African American community in this area.” The Jefferson School is reopening in mid-September, but you can also keep an eye out for their scheduled walking tours of Charlottesville on their Facebook or Twitter to learn about the city’s Black churches, homes built by Black builders in the 1890s, and the history of Black culture over at the Downtown Mall.
Other highlights: The Sally Hemings exhibit at Monticello, the historic former estate of Thomas Jefferson, is open with timed ticketing.The exhibit is rather extraordinary given the notorious erasure of the slave who birthed children by Jefferson but was never freed. The Saunders-Monticello Trail is also a lovely, easy hike through thick forestry, rewarding hikers with spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain views.
Get your caffeine at Lone Light Coffee and pair it with a breakfast pie (could a more perfect food exist?) from the adjoining Pie Chest just off the pedestrian Downtown Mall. As I came out of the storefront sipping iced coffee I noticed the street sign: Heather Heyer Way. I checked the date and, in fact, it was just a few days away from the anniversary of her death in the counterprotest to the 2017 Unite the Right Rally—the street where she was killed has been renamed in her honor. Home to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, the University of Virginia, Charlottesville has had a bit of an identity crisis ever since the far-right violence soiled its turf. Many residents are quick to combat the city’s newfound symbolism of white supremacy (“They were all from out of town!”) but it has not been spared the national wake-up call of recent racial justice demonstrations.
Day 5: Charlottesville to Virginia Foothills
Do: Of all the former presidential properties attempting to shed light on the history of slavery, the Monroe Highland and others owe a credit to Montpelier, the home and plantation of James Madison, fourth president of the U.S. and original drafter of the Constitution, and his wife Dolley, unofficially considered the first official “First Lady” due to her apparent distinction in the role. Pioneering slave descendent engagement since the 1990s, Montpelier has been working to restore the home and surrounding land to its condition and character when Madison was the primary owner—slave quarters and all.
Unfortunately, the permanent exhibit honoring the Montpelier slaves and their experience, The Mere Distinction of Colour, is closed to the public for the time being. Walking the vast grounds of former tobacco fields and looking up at the stately neoclassical architecture of the residence—where the Bill of Rights itself was first drafted—juxtaposed with the ill-insulated homes of slave workers, it was difficult to reconcile the famous James Madison quote for which the Montpelier slavery exhibit is named: “We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”
It’s never been more clear to me how much contradiction is baked into the very fabric of the United States. The Founding Fathers believed they were building the most enlightened nation ever conceived and the majority believed in the abolition of slavery—but all of them held slaves, and not one freed a single slave in their lifetime. White suffragists wanted equality—but they excluded Black women from the movement for fear of alienating Southerners (and their funding). And what happened to the young radicals of the 1960s? “It did not take long for this generation to find out that they loved material comfort more than justice,” says bell hooks in her groundbreaking philosophical work All About Love.
While there is certainly a strong spiritual desire for achieving a higher form of society in America, it seems that those in power are not willing to forgo economic privileges in order to ensure that everyone—namely people of color—may benefit from its advancements.
Eat: The Market at Grelen sits on a stunning 600-acre orchard and tree nursery just off the Montpelier property. Their food is fresh and delicious (a nice break from heavy Southern fare) and people who watch reruns of Fixer Upper (guilty!) will feel like kids in a candy store. Owner Leslie Gregg has made an Insta-worthy destination just 30 minutes outside Charlottesville. You won’t want to miss it, but you may want to leave your credit card at home.
Stay: 1804 Inn at Barboursville is one of the most charming accommodations I’ve ever stayed in—try to snag one of the cottages, named after the Italian wine varietals the gorgeous onsite vineyard is known for perfecting. The Barboursville Vineyards speak to the earliest history of wine in Virginia, dating back to a pre-Revolutionary era when an Italian diplomat first planted the seed of Stateside winemaking in Thomas Jefferson’s ear. The seed didn’t bear actual grapes until a pioneering young Italian couple in the 1970s first got wind of the old tale on a visit to Monticello and decided it was high time to allow vintners to till the soil of the Bordeaux-esque region.
Day 6: Virginia Foothills to Richmond
Do: Saddened to leave the lush Virginia Foothills so quickly, I drove a bit aimlessly around Richmond until I found myself on Monument Avenue. As the former capital of the Confederacy, there’s a monument just about anywhere a rebel soldier sneezed, but none were so prominently exalted as the ones on this residential boulevard. It was a sight to behold in this era of unrest. All Confederate monuments owned by the city have been reduced to stumps, and the remaining state- and federally-owned statues are slathered in bright and scathing protest graffiti. The Lee monument, which has been unofficially renamed by the community as Marcus David Peters Circle. Victims of needless death at the hands of police are memorialized in incredibly moving displays all around the monument.
Eat: Richmond is a food city, no doubt about it, and BLK RVA is a great resource for the nearly 70 Black-owned restaurants in the city. Start your day over at Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar for a delicious juice ahead of heavier meals at the iconic Mama J’s, which put Richmond on the map for Southern fare, and Chef Mamusu’s Africanne on Main, which has been serving a delicious West African buffet since 1955.
End the day with a cold one from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery or Veil Brewing. Both have expansive outdoor options and participated in the recent Black is Beautiful campaign, which seeks to promote the craft beer industry as an inclusive space and raise awareness for hardships faced by people of color (the wine industry might want to take notes).
Stay: The Linden Row Inn is a charmingly renovated group of row houses in downtown Richmond that provide chic and spacious sleep and lounging quarters. A couple times when the weather wasn’t cooperating, I was able to feast on my delicious Richmond fare from the comfort of my adorable covered porch. Rocking chair included.
Other highlights: Richmond benefits from being an outdoorsy city in pandemic times—I was able to blow off some steam on a stand up paddle board eco-tour on the James River, courtesy of Riverside Outfitters.
Day 7: Richmond
Do: Though the interior is currently closed to the public, National Park guides are stationed outside the Maggie Walker Historic Site to offer insight on the incredible life of Richmond’s most famous and beloved Black woman entrepreneur. Born to former slaves just two years after the end of the Civil War, Walker overcame immense barriers to become not just the first woman of color, but the first woman ever, to charter a bank, propelling the Jackson Ward neighborhood into one of the country’s thriving Black Wall Streets at the turn of the 20th century.
Walker also played a critical role in Richmond’s suffrage movement. On the day registration opened up to women, Walker stayed on courthouse grounds helping thousands of Black women register to vote. The very next year? She wasted no time running a campaign for governor herself—the first Black woman ever to do so.
Her presence is felt through the existing historic Jackson Ward neighborhood today: literally, with her larger-than-life statue prominently displayed on Broad Street, and figuratively, through the slow-but-sure revitalization of Black businesses in the area. “Maggie Walker is the reason I do what I do,” Kelli Lemon, community leader and owner of Urban Hang Suite in Jackson Ward, told me. “I just feel her spirit, the spirit of Black Richmond, so strongly in this place.”
Eat: Start (or end!) your day at Urban Hang Suite. It’s the kind of space that’s so much more than a coffee shop (though the coffee and cafe fare do the trick). Lemon also curates local brews while her brother selects the wine—a welcome addition to a beer-heavy city, introducing bottles that locals won’t find at the supermarket.
Lemon can be seen as a sort of modern-day Maggie Walker. A serial entrepreneur, Lemon first brought the people of Richmond together on her podcast, Coffee with Strangers; now, with six LLCs under her belt, she’s helping Black entrepreneurs navigate all the nuances of business ownership with the Jackson Ward Collective.
“I ask myself “What would Maggie do?’” says Lemon. “There’s no way not to push on when I know it was so much harder for her.”
Stay: Linden Row Inn.
Other highlights: Stop by the VMFA Sculpture Garden to scout the 2019 Kehinde Wiley sculpture, a prescient and direct response to the infamous Lee monument (it’s a great spot to picnic too). The Richmond Black History Museum is also worth a visit, currently exhibiting the traveling Monticello exhibit on the lives of the plantation’s slaves, including Sally Hemmings.