21 Influential Virginia Women

by Casey Higgins | Posted: Mar 12, 2014 | Updated: Oct 7, 2014

Comments: 5 Comments

March is Women’s History Month and we’re proud to shine a light on some of the women who have made huge impressions, leaving their mark on Virginia.

Please note that this list is in no way comprehensive. How could it be? To give us a hand, please leave a comment to honor the Virginia women you find most influential.

Pocahontas 1994 by Mary Ellen Howe

Pocahontas 1994 by Mary Ellen Howe

Pocahontas (1595-1617) daughter of Indian Chief Powhatan; married John Rolfe.

Mary Elizabeth Bowser (1839-unknown) Richmond; Union spy working as a servant for Varina Davis, wife of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Inducted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame (1995).

Maggie L. Walker (1864-1934) Richmond; First woman bank president in America, Advocate of black women’s rights.

Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) Richmond; fiction writer in early 1900s, Pulitzer Prize winner (1942).

Nancy Langhorne Astor (1879-1964) Danville; first woman seated in the British House of Commons.

Ann Spencer (1882-1975) Henry County; African-American poet of the Harlem Renaissance.

Sara Carter (1898-1979) Copper Creek; country singer.

Maybelle Carter – (1909-1979) Nicklesville; country singer.

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-96) Newport News; “The First Lady of Song;” Grammy Award-winning Jazz singer (13 times).

Pearl Bailey (1918-90) Newport News; Actress, Singer and Author; Tony Award (1967); Medal of Freedom Award (1988).

June Carter Cash (1929-2003) Hiltons; country singer, married to Johnny Cash.

Patsy Cline (1932-1963) Winchester; country singer.

Shirley MacLaine (1934- ) Richmond; stage and screen actress, Academy Award winner.

Barbara Johns (1935-1991) New York City, but grew up in Farmville, Prince Edward County. Sixteen year old junior at Robert Russa Moton High School who organized a student strike for a new school building (1951). The NAACP advised the students to sue for integration. The Farmville case was one of the five eventually rolled into the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that declared segregation unconstitutional (1954).

Kylene Barker (1955 – ) Pipers Gap; 1979 Miss America – Virginia’s first Miss America.

Katie Couric (1957- ) Arlington; television news personality; host of “Katie,” ABC; global anchor, Yahoo News.

Wanda Sykes (1964- ) Portsmouth; Comedienne and actress. Film and television credits include “The Wanda Sykes Show,” “Evan Almighty,” “Monster-in-Law,” “Nutty Professor 2;” Emmy Award Winner (1999, 2002, 2004, 2005).

Missy Elliott (1971- ) Portsmouth; Songwriter, Producer, Arranger, Talent Scout, Record Mogul. Considered the top female hip-hop artist of all time. Four-time Grammy Award Winner (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005).

Whitney Hedgepeth (1971- ) Colonial Heights; Three-time NCAA Champion, Gold and Silver Olympic Medalist (Atlanta 1996).

Caressa Cameron (1987- ) – Fredericksburg; 2010 Miss America.

Gabrielle Douglas (1995- ) Virginia Beach; Gymnast. Olympic Gold Medalist (London 2012). First African-American all-around gymnastics champion.


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Gloria Hoover says:

How about Mary Draper Ingles? Has she been added to an up to date list as of yet?

You should for sure add Betsy Henry Campbell Russell, then called Madame Elizabeth Campbell Russell. The sister of the great patriot Patrick Henry. She married William Campbell who became the hero of the King’s Mountain Battle which changed the tide of the Revolutionary War. After General Campbell’s death a couple years later she married General Russell, a widower with 9 young children. Betsy Campbell Russell converted to Methodism at which time she freed her one slave. She devoted her life to God and the Methodist denomination and one has called her the “mother of Methodism”. She influenced the entire south western Virginia and Eastern Tennessee area. She hosted Bishop Frances Asbury (who wrote about her very favorably about her kindness, zeal, and humbleness in his journal) who often was a visitor in her home along with many other itinerant preachers and evangelists. The Methodist made a church for her in Saltville, VA called the Madame Elizabeth Campbell Russell church and next to it reconstructed her log home. Truly one of the great if not the greatest women in all of Virginia.

Pennie J. Martin says:

Thank you so much for sharing this information and educating us about a remarkable woman.

Carol says:

Thank you for sharing.

Annette Marquis says:

Two other influential women who should be in this list:

Elizabeth Van Lew, Richmond, abolitionist, organized and led espionage operation for the Union, in whose house Maggie L. Walker was born.

Grace Arents, Richmond, philanthropist, social reformer who built Richmond’s first public housing, schools, churches, Richmond’s first library, visiting nurses system, and gave us Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.