"A Share of Honour": Virginia Women, 1600-1945. Essay by Suzanne Lebsock.
Checklist and catalog by Kym S. Rice. Richmond: Virginia Women's Cultural History Project, 1984. xix, 167 pp. $10.00.
"A Share of Honour": Virginia Women, 1600-1945 is a published companion to a
traveling exhibit of the artifacts of Virginia women's lives for those three and a half
centuries. Kym S. Rice served as curator and Suzanne Lebsock as historian. Their
book may serve as a model for how women's historians may share their knowledge
with the wider public.
The illustrations are both lovely and informative. They range from John White's
watercolor of an Indian woman and her daughter, ca. 1585-87, to the modern primitive
paintings of Harriet French Turner and Queena Dillard Stovall. Included are
portraits of famous Virginia women such as Pocahontas and Ellen Glasgow, clothing,
handicrafts, art created by women, illustrations and photographs of women at work
and play, and tools used by women (a fluting iron) and on women (a slave flogger,
an obstetrical hook). The illustrations in the book lean to art and craftwork more than
tools and depictions of the quotidian and thus tend to reinforce the traditional association
of women with culture, as both the creators and subjects of art.
Suzanne Lebsock's essay, however, captures the diversity of Virginia women's experience.
Drawing from recent work in social and ethnohistory, she reminds us that
colonial Virginia was a triracial society; throughout, she examines the different history
of black and white women. Although Lebsock has been able to draw for her early
chapters from a growing secondary literature, of which her own recent Free Women
of Petersburg is a fine example, in the postbellum sections she has of necessity explored
terra incognita. Particularly impressive is her description of the important contributions
of such Progressive-era reformers as Janie Porter Barrett and Kate Waller Barrett.
As in her book, Lebsock shows the significance of women's organizations both
to the women who ran them and to the communities' the organizations served. No
less in Virginia than in any other state in the nation can antebellum or Progressive
reform be fully understood without considering the leading role of women. In a
state as conservative as Virginia, however, female activism may have taken on a
different meaning than in an area more hospitable to change.
It is of no little significance that this book, which extols women's contributions and
frankly discusses their oppression, has been underwritten by a host of Virginia corporations.
Not only has a feminist view of women's history been made available to
the public, but it has also been adopted as orthodoxy by the establishment.
"A Share of Honour" belongs in libraries and high schools throughout the state.
A handsome coffee-table book, it will also find an appreciative audience among scholars
who are interested in an engaging survey of the history of Virginia women.
Jan Lewis, Rutgers University, Newark
Reviewed in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, v.93 no.4 (October 1985)