Elizabeth Van Lew photographed in an elaborate dress, hat, and gloves
Original Author: Unknown
Created: Late nineteenth century, before September 1900
Medium: Photographic print
Publisher: Valentine Richmond History Center

Elizabeth Van Lew Photographed After the Civil War

Elizabeth Van Lew, who had served as a Union spy in Richmond during the Civil War, poses for a photograph in the late nineteenth century dressed in an elaborate dress, hat, and gloves. In the post-war era, Richmonders "shunned her like the plague," according to Van Lew's family doctor. Children, including the future novelist Ellen Glasgow, were encouraged to see her as a witch, and her Church Hill mansion was said to have been haunted after her death in 1900.

Still, for many years after the war, Van Lew played an important role in Richmond politics. In 1869, U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant rewarded Van Lew's wartime service by appointing her postmaster of Richmond, a position she held for Grant's two terms, during which time she helped modernize the city's postal system and employed a number of Blacks. She sponsored a library for Blacks that opened in Richmond in 1876 and supported African American rights and woman suffrage.