Henrico Celebrates March as Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Learn more and start your own conversation.
Women’s History Month spotlight: Henrico County Senior Police Officer Heidi Rojas Barton
Senior Police Officer Heidi Rojas Barton works to strengthen relationships with Henrico’s culturally diverse communities. Her first language is Spanish, which helps her connect with the county’s Hispanic residents and translate for Henrico County Police. She is a member of the division’s Intercultural Liaison Partnership and serves as the Hispanic Latina Liaison. Officer Rojas says now is a welcome time for women in policing. “This is a new generation where we can support each other and try to create our own space in this career.”
Women’s History Month spotlight: Henrico County Police SWAT Sniper N.C. Elliot
Detective N.C. Elliott is the first and only female sniper on the Henrico County Police SWAT Team. She can shoot something as small as a bullet casing from 100 yards away. That’s the length of a football field! Elliott didn’t think twice about pursuing a career that is dominated by men. She encourages other women to do the same. “If it’s what you want and you’re good at it, go for it.” #WomensHistoryMonth
Henrico Happenings – Episode 31 – Sheriff Alisa Gregory
In March, we’re celebrating Women’s History Month. Sheriff Alisa Gregory is the first woman to lead the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Gregory shares details of her journey and encourages other women to consider a career in law enforcement in this episode of Henrico Happenings.
Virginia Estelle Randolph: Pioneer Educator
Virginia Estelle Randolph was a pioneer educator in Henrico County during the 19th and 20th centuries. Her innovative ideas and vocational curriculum termed “The Henrico Plan” was adopted throughout the south and internationally. Randolph made remarkable strides in African-American education during an unsettled time in our history.
- Born: 1750(?)
- Died: unknown
- Gender: Female
- Ethnicity: African-American
- Place of Birth: Virginia
- Field: Cultural
Aggy, probably born in Virginia about 1750, was an enslaved African-American woman on the “Turkey Island” plantation along the James River in Henrico County, Virginia, belonging to local planter Ryland Randolph, a scion of the enormous and wealthy Randolph clan. Aggy was a house servant, and may have actually lived in the main house, which was locally known as the “Bird Cage.” There is some speculation that Aggy and Randolph may have lived together as man and wife. It is known that Ryland Randolph died legally unmarried and without acknowledging any children of his own.
However, upon Randolph’s death in 1784, Aggy and her two small children, Sylvia Anderson and Alexander Philip, were given their freedom by the terms of Randolph’s will. This document also stated that Aggy would receive “All my Household furniture of every kind including Gold & silver excepting what is fixed, comprehending Tables, Chairs &c. all my wearing apparel.”
He further instructed his executors (one of whom was his brother Richard) to set up a trust fund for Aggy and her children to move to England and live there. Nevertheless, Randolph’s relatives disregarded his wishes and kept Aggy and her children enslaved and withheld their inheritance. Robert Pleasants, a local Quaker attorney and neighbor, took an interest and became involved in Aggy’s struggle. He helped her successfully sue for and receive freedom in 1790. The Henrico Chancery Court issued a Default Decree granting Aggy and her children absolute freedom, and Certificates of Emancipation were ordered to be prepared by clerk of court for them.
Aggy made her final documented appearance in court in Henrico on August 18, 1801 and at long last obtained her legal liberty. She and her children disappear from the records after that, and it is currently not known what happened to them. By virtue of her lengthy battle to win freedom for herself and her children, Aggy can be considered a pioneer in the area of civil rights.
Trifone, Nicole. “Between Worlds.” Trend and Tradition Magazine. Spring 2018; Evans, Emory G. A Topping People: The Rise and Fall of Virginia’s Old Political Elite, 1680-1790. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009; Henrico County Will Book I, 1781-1787. Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Company, 2014; Henrico County. Chancery Papers, 1790-1810. Library of Virginia. Acc. # 1138052; Henrico County, Va. Henrico County Court, Order Book No. 4, 1789-1791. Library of Virginia, Reel 70, microfilm; Rhoades, William. “Aggy’s Freedom Suit”: Proposed Double-Sided Marker, Henrico County Historic Signage Program. Application with Documentation, 2017.
- Born: 1903
- Died: 1991
- Gender: Female
- Ethnicity: African-American
- Place of Birth: Henrico
- Field: Education
Katie May Brown Atkins was born in Henrico County, Virginia, on May 30, 1903, a daughter of William Henry and Texhanna Martin Brown, and grew up on her parents’ farm in the Gravel Hill community. She was educated in the Varina area one-room schools that were overseen by Miss Virginia Estelle Randolph. She subsequently boarded at the Training school on Mountain Road in Glen Allen, where she completed her secondary education. On June 12, 1922, Katie Brown was among the first female students from Gravel Hill to graduate from the Virginia Randolph Training School. Family members continue to treasure the certificate documenting her graduation.
Katie Brown taught in one-room school houses in eastern Henrico (including Gravel Hill School, Sydney School and the school at Boar Swamp). She married Spott Atkins (1895-1991), a friend from childhood and a Gravel Hill farmer who also worked at the Rail Road Company, on September 16, 1924. By 1930, census records show that the couple were the parents of four children 5 and and younger.
By all accounts, Katie and her husband instilled in their family (which eventually included 10 children) the importance of church, family, work, and a quality education. Descended from slave ancestors who were freed by Quakers in the 18th Century, members of the Atkins family were pillars of the Gravel Hill Community, and their support and leadership in education, religious life, and farming endeavors were appreciated and valued by other African Americans in the area. Katie May Brown Atkins can be described as an educator, leader, humanitarian, and an economist for improving the quality of living for her family and the people living in the Gravel Hill Community. Katie May Brown Atkins died on June 29, 1991, and is buried in Washington Memorial Cemetery in Sandston, Va.
1930 U.S. Census; Cemetery information provided by Church Clerk, Gravel Hill Baptist Church, November 8, 2010; Social Security Death Index. “Atkins, Katie M.” http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi (accessed February 8, 2011).
Discovering, becoming and unveiling may be one of the most consistent orbital patterns for women throughout history. Mirrors highlight our differences and reveal our similarities, while conversations, research and art weave connections you never knew existed. Stop by again and again. You will always uncover something new.
March is Women’s History Month! In addition to our All Henrico Reads title, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford, to celebrate, we’re browsing hundreds of inspiring narratives about women, including Virginia’s own female trailblazers, in our extensive collection of biographies, nonfiction, and databases. Read on to learn more!
You’ll find several female voices in this year’s All Henrico Reads title, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford, which tells the story of one family through multiple generations of women. Read about Afong Moy, the first-known Chinese woman to enter the United States. Or take a deeper look at the real-life history behind the characters’ stories including the Barbary Plague in San Francisco, the Flying Tigers of WWII, and the rise and fall of the women-founded dating app, Siren, in our NewsBank database.
In addition to these stories, we encourage you to explore Virginia’s own incredible women. The Virginia Women in History project, founded by the Library of Virginia, is a great place to start your search. Then, head to our collection and databases to learn more! Check out a few of the amazing women from Virginia’s past and present.
We (Henrico County Public Library) are thrilled to announce that Henrico County resident, public historian, author, presenter and filmmaker, Elvatrice Belsches, will be visiting the library to discuss her work on Virginia E. Randolph, a Richmond native who pioneered education initiatives for black students throughout Henrico County and across the South for over five decades.
In the program, The Life and Legacy of Miss Virginia Estelle Randolph, Belsches will take the audience on a multimedia journey that amplifies Randolph’s extraordinary contributions in the areas of education, public health and juvenile justice reform.
Belsches has studied the life of Virginia Randolph extensively and was the recipient of a grant from Virginia Humanities in 2020, which will allow her to work on the development of the script for the Virginia Randolph documentary project. Her biographical entries for Miss Virginia Randolph appear in both Encyclopedia Virginia and the African American National Biography (AANB), a collaborative publication of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and the Oxford University Press. She is also the author of Black America Series: Richmond, Virginia (Arcadia Publishing) and several other biographical entries in the AANB.
Additionally, she was a recipient of the 2011 Award of Merit by the Henrico Historic Preservation Advisory Committee for her distinguished contributions to historic preservation in Henrico County. Her work includes serving as an in-studio researcher on Steven Spielberg’s motion picture, Lincoln. She lectures locally and nationally on the Black experience in history.