Lila Meade Valentine

Lila Meade Valentine (1865–1921)

Lila Meade Valentine was a suffragist, education reformer, and public-health advocate. During her abbreviated life, she played a vital role in creating and running organizations that improved the health-care and public school systems of her native city of Richmond. Valentine also became an ardent supporter of woman suffrage early in the 1900s, cofounding the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and serving as an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. A talented organizer and an eloquent speaker, Valentine led efforts on behalf of suffrage that came to fruition in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. MORE...

 

Early Years

Lila Meade was born in Richmond on February 4, 1865, the daughter of Richard Hardaway Meade and Kate Fontaine Meade. At the age of twenty-one, she married Benjamin Batchelder Valentine, a prosperous businessman. The couple's marriage was a happy one, with Benjamin Valentine actively supporting his wife's work on behalf of education and health-care reform, and woman suffrage. The couple had no children, and Benjamin Valentine died in 1919.

Valentine's career as a reformer began in 1900. Appalled by the inequities of Virginia's education system, which made it difficult for poor, African American, and female children to receive high quality instruction, Valentine, along with several other activists, formed the Richmond Education Association (REA). The association was remarkably dynamic and productive, and during Valentine's tenure as president (1900–1904), the REA raised funds for a new high school, founded programs designed to help train kindergarten teachers, called for better training and higher wages for all teachers, and created initiatives designed to help poor white and African American students receive excellent educations.

While working in Virginia schools, Valentine frequently saw children suffering from treatable illnesses, and she soon became interested in health-care reform. In 1902, she helped found the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association of Richmond (IVNA), and became the organization's president in 1904. The association targeted lower-income residents of Richmond, seeking to ensure that they had access to basic health-care services. Under Valentine's leadership, the IVNA led an initiative to help combat the then-common disease of tuberculosis. This initiative subsequently became a model for health-care reformers throughout Virginia.

Woman Suffrage

Plagued by ill health and exhausted by a demanding schedule of speeches and meetings, Valentine reluctantly stepped down from her various leadership roles in 1904. On a trip to England, she observed the work of radical suffragists and returned to the United States eager to become involved in the American woman suffrage movement. In 1909, Valentine cofounded the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, one of the most influential southern suffrage organizations. She supposed that an electorate that included women would be more likely to support education and health-care reform.

Although by no means as controversial as when first proposed by reformers during the nineteenth century, woman suffrage remained a divisive issue across gender as well as racial lines. This was particularly true in the socially conservative South, where ideals of southern womanhood still dictated that white women focus on the home and family, and avoid the "male" realm of politics and government. Valentine and her fellow suffragists defied such expectations, asserting their right not only to speak about political subjects but also to vote in political contests.

Valentine initially believed that woman suffrage might be won state by state, with legislatures passing their own suffrage amendments. She toured Virginia in 1912 and 1913, giving more than a hundred speeches to government officials and state organizations. Valentine proved to be so effective a speaker that she was subsequently called on to address crowds in New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Still, a suffrage amendment failed in Virginia in 1916, leading Valentine to fix her sights on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Equal Suffrage League, meanwhile, had joined forces with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and over the years it continued to grow. In 1914, it reported 45 local chapters. By 1916, there were 115, including 23 organized in that year alone.

The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote became law in 1920. In part, however, because of groups like the Virginia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, the General Assembly withheld its ratification until 1952. Valentine registered to vote for the first time from her sick bed but was too ill to go to the polls to vote. She died on July 14, 1921. Ironically, in 1936, the same General Assembly that had refused to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment nonetheless placed a memorial plaque in the State Capitol to honor Valentine.

Time Line

  • February 4, 1865 - Lila Meade Valentine is born in Richmond.
  • 1900 - Lila Meade Valentine, appalled by the inequities of Virginia's education system, which make it difficult for poor, African American, and female children to receive high quality instruction, forms the Richmond Education Association along with several other activists, including Mary-Cooke Branch Munford.
  • 1900–1904 - Lila Meade Valentine serves as president of the Richmond Education Association (REA).
  • 1902 - Lila Meade Valentine helps found the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association of Richmond (IVNA), and she becomes the organization's president in 1904. The association targets lower-income residents of Richmond, seeking to ensure that they have access to basic health-care services.
  • November 27, 1909 - A group of women, including Kate Waller Barrett, Kate Langley Bosher, Adèle Clark, Ellen Glasgow, Nora Houston, Mary Johnston, and Lila Meade Valentine, found the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.
  • 1912 - Lila Meade Valentine persuades a group of Richmond businessmen to form the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.
  • 1913 - In a letter to Lila Meade Valentine, Mary Johnston defends black women and encourages their inclusion in the suffrage movement.
  • July 14, 1921 - Lila Meade Valentine dies.
  • 1936 - The same Virginia General Assembly that had refused to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 nonetheless places a memorial plaque in the State Capitol to honor Lila Meade Valentine.
Further Reading
Graham, Sara Hunter. "Woman Suffrage in Virginia: The Equal Suffrage League and Pressure-Group Politics, 1909–1920." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 101 (April 1993): 227–250.
Green, Elna. Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage. New York: J. J. Little and Ives Company, 1922.
Taylor, Lloyd C. "Lila Meade Valentine: The FFV as Reformer," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 70 (October 1962): 471–487.
Wheeler, Majorie Spruill. New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Kent, H. Lila Meade Valentine (1865–1921). (2014, September 15). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Valentine_Lila_Meade_1865-1921.

  • MLA Citation:

    Kent, Holly. "Lila Meade Valentine (1865–1921)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 15 Sep. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: November 6, 2008 | Last modified: September 15, 2014


Contributed by Holly Kent, a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Lehigh University.