LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Randolph College hosted a ceremony at Wimberly Recital Hall to unveil a marker honoring former English professor Nellie Powell.
“This for me is now like the end of seven years of trying to get places identified,” Nancy Tate, Virginia coordinator of the National Votes for Women Trail, said. “So it’s a very happy ending, very celebratory. I’m really pleased that the college embraced it this much.”
The historical marker was placed near the corner of Rivermont and Norfolk avenues. A crowd of nearly 40 faculty, students, staff and members of the local League of Women Voters attended the unveiling.
Randolph College is one of two sites in Virginia that will be included on the National Votes for Women Trail, which seeks to tell the story of the long struggle for women’s voting rights in America, according to a news release. The trail is a project of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Site, which provides free roadside markers for significant suffrage sites around the country.
“I just think it’s so exciting and special that we’re one of only two places in Virginia that got a marker. And I think it’s a great opportunity for people to come and learn about an aspect of history that they didn’t know about before,” said Jennifer Gauthier, professor of communication and co-president of the League of Women Voters of Lynchburg.
Powell and her students formed an Equal Suffrage League Chapter at the college in 1913.
She served on the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College Suffrage League Board of Directors and was the faculty advisor to the student suffragettes.
She frequently lectured about the suffrages in Lynchburg and marched in Washington, D.C., to the Capitol in 1913 to deliver a petition on the behalf of the 48 states according to Ted Delaney, director of the Lynchburg Museum System. Under Powell’s leadership, the college often hosted “Suffrage Schools” in its classrooms during the summertime.
Women of all ages learned about citizenship, civics and contemporary political issues such as the Great War in Europe — now known as World War I — and child labor issues in this country.
Delaney said in his remarks to the audience that one reason Lynchburg was a center of activity in the women’s suffrage movement in Virginia was Randolph-Macon Woman’s college, the predecessor to Randolph College.
The campus was home to the only other suffrage organization in the city, founded by Elizabeth Lewis, according to Delaney.
The local chapter was founded in the fall of 1913 and its membership peaked at one point with 130 women.
Randolph College sophomore Reese Copper said the event was inspiring.
“I wasn’t really educated on how the college was back then, and so hearing how involved they were and how much they really were part of the change, is really inspiring for us,” Cooper said.
Randolph College student Alissa Gracia-Cruz didn’t know anything specifically about Nellie Powell.
“It was definitely very eye-opening and just a historical event to witness,” Garcia-Cruz said. “And just a good experience in order to see our campus come together for a great cause that has historically impacted us.”
The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave the constitutional right for women to vote, was in 2020. Tate said because of that, a lot of groups around the country decided they should do something.
The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites created the trail often in the form of an online map. However, Tate said the group asked someone in every state to be the coordinator to look for sites that had been important somehow in women’s suffrage.
“In this case, one of the things that was different about this (Lynchburg) was … that it was at a college, because there were college chapters of suffragettes, but that’s not very well known. So that was a different part of the story,” Tate said.
Overall, Tate said it makes her happy to see all those who attended the event and said there’s a lot of inspiration in this story.
“You know, I just think it’s very inspiring that anybody, as an individual, can decide to make a difference. And that’s what I want people to know,” Tate said. “It’s not just about history. It’s about how you can see other human beings like you who stood up and did something.”