Virginia Atkinson Chase was born
December 20, 1874 to Edwin E. Chase and Virginia Atkinson Chase. While she was growing up in Edina,
Missouri, the youthful Virginia's seemingly secure affluent
life was often undermined by her father's severe
financial reverses. As an adult she rarely spoke of her childhood and has left almost no record of her
remembrances. In keeping with upper-middle class practices, her parents sent Virginia to Miss Brown's
School for Girls in New York City. After graduating in 1894, she departed for Europe where she toured
many of the traditional tourist and cultural sites. In 1900 when she married James Harrison Steedman, the
son of a prominent St. Louis family, Virginia was well prepared to assume her place in society.
Steedman was called into active military service during World War I. His health declined, and
only two years after his return home he died. The
James Harrison Steedman Traveling Fellowship at the Washington University School of Architecture
was established by his widow and his brother George Fox Steedman as a memorial in 1924.
At age 45, Virginia Steedman was a childless widow with a comfortable fortune. Accompanied
by her friends, Mr. and Mrs. William Cocke, she began an around-the-world journey in 1922
that would take her to Paris, Cairo, and Istanbul. When the party arrived in Calcutta, the Cockes
arranged to have lunch with their old friend, Alexander W. Weddell, who was serving as the
consul-general there. Smitten with each other, the couple conducted their courtship on a four-month-
long-journey to New York where they were
in the St. Ambrose Chapel of the Cathedral
Church of St. John the Divine, May 31, 1923.
As an ambassador's wife, Virginia Weddell entertained a vast variety of people at the
United States embassies in Madrid and Buenos Aires. Sir Samuel Hoare, the British ambassador
to Spain, wrote of Virginia Weddell "...she, [is] the soul of human kindness, generous to an extreme
to Spanish good works, and friendly alike to Americans, Spaniards, and English." Virginia Weddell
played an important role in the American diplomatic mission through the parties and other social events
she hosted. Often these events allowed diplomats to exchange information informally and to glean
insights that could not be obtained during formal meetings that were governed by the strictures of protocol.
The utter misery endured by the Spanish people in the wake of the bitter Civil War spurred
Virginia Weddell to organize a massive relief campaign.
After establishing the Fondo de Socorro Español de Mrs. Weddell
(Mrs. Weddell's Spanish Relief Fund), she raffled off
her car to initiate giving among her friends and acquaintances in Buenos Aries. Subsequently
she was awarded "una condecoracion de manos del conde" by the Spanish Red Cross.
Mrs. Weddell's early efforts in Spain included procuring wheel chairs, pajamas, cigarettes, puzzles,
games, pain-relieving drugs, and artificial limbs for Spanish soldiers in military hospitals. She
opened an office in the embassy to direct the Red Cross relief efforts and had bread baked
in the kitchen for distribution among the poor.
Mrs. Weddell's charitable activities had begun long before she assumed the role of diplomatic wife.
Throughout her long career, her domestic efforts would be as impressive as those projects she
undertook overseas. The lovely setting she and her husband had created along the banks of the
James River served as the stage for their diverse charitable and public service efforts.
In addition to making garden club speeches, providing leadership in child welfare causes,
and sponsoring the Navy League during World War II, Virginia Weddell undertook more
controversial projects. Unfortunately, a very forward thinking attempt to build low-cost
housing for African Americans in Richmond was stymied. Yet despite occasional
opposition and sporadic criticism, Virginia Weddell always found a way to serve.