Created: Late nineteenth century, before September 1900
Medium: Photographic print
Publisher: Valentine Richmond History Center
Elizabeth Van Lew as an Old Woman
An elderly Elizabeth Van Lew, who during the Civil War had served as a Union spy in Richmond, poses for a photograph dressed in an elaborate dress, hat, and gloves. 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 African Americans. She sponsored a library for African Americans that opened in Richmond in 1876, and supported African American rights and woman suffrage.