For the third year in a row, I have been tasked with writing vignettes to celebrate history. Sponsored by the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, downtown area churches have presented vignettes on little-known facts in Black History. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, we’re celebrating Women’s History Month with three vignettes. Entitled: “Untold Stories of Women in History: Love, Liberty, Equality,” the vignette Give Us the Vote! depicts women’s struggle to win the vote; Going Home highlights the dedication of nurses who helped the wounded at St. George’s Episcopal Church while waiting for transportation to field hospitals after the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War; and Love on Trial focuses on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Mildred and Richard Loving’s right to live as husband and wife, as an interracial couple, in Virginia. This event will be open to the public. If you’ll be in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area go to fowb.org for details. We usually present the productions in February, but the ongoing crisis of COVID-19 has caused us to postpone the event. We anticipate a fall production schedule.
Women have come a long way to quote a cigarette ad for Virginia Slims in the 60s. In Give Us the Vote, we see the conflict between the women who desire the vote and those who have embraced the finite description of what a woman is and what a woman should do in society. Women were defined by how useful they were to men. Personal pursuits which ran counter to society’s expectations were frowned upon and discouraged. A friend in Zumba class once confided that she told her father she was considering running track when she was in junior high. Her father told her pretty girls shouldn’t pursue such things. She didn’t pursue this desire. That exchange wasn’t too long ago. Gender bias is still a factor in society.
The Wilderness Battle was one of the first times many women served as nurses. If they weren’t part of Clara Barton’s nurses, they came with the U.S. Sanitation Commission or the U.S. Christian Commission. They provided food, medicine, and Christian instruction to the wounded soldiers. St. George’s Episcopal Church was used as a hospital in 1862 and as an evacuation station to transport the wounded to field hospitals at Belle Plain in 1864. It is during this time that the vignette Going Home is set.
Interracial sex, whether consensual or forced, has always occurred worldwide. Legislating a ban on interracial relationships didn’t prevent the occurrence in modern times or in the ante-bellum period. In a speech, Lincoln combated the opposite parties’ argument that freeing the slaves would promote sex between the races. He compared the number of mixed-race persons in the north to the south. He concluded that in the south the number of mulattos was more than 300,000. His conclusion was slavery led to race-mixing far more frequently than it did in the free states. In Love on Trial, we see an interracial couple challenge the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, passed by the Virginia General Assembly to enforce segregation.
The female characters in the vignettes: Abby and Bette, Kate Barrett, Adele Clark and Janie Porter, and Mildred Loving dared to stand up for what they believed in, and challenge the status quo. They took a step toward equality to claim their place at the table. A woman is a person, after all.