Author: Clayton McClure Brooks

a National Governors Association post-doctoral fellow in residence at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton. She is the editor of A Legacy of Leadership: Governors and American History (2008)

Mary-Cooke Branch Munford (1865–1938)

Mary-Cooke Branch Munford was an advocate of woman suffrage, interracial cooperation, education, health, and labor reforms. Armed with a pedigree that connected her to some of the wealthiest families of Virginia, she threw herself into such “unfeminine” pursuits as education reform and civil rights. She helped to found the Richmond Education Association, was the first woman to serve on the city’s school board, was a member of the University of Virginia‘s board of visitors, and was the first woman to serve on the College of William and Mary‘s board of visitors. Munford also served on the board of the National Urban League, was a founding member of the Virginia Inter-Racial League, and became a trustee at the historically black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.


Mary Johnston (1870–1936)

Mary Johnston was a novelist, suffragist, and social advocate, as well as the first woman to top best-seller lists in the twentieth century. Born in Botetourt County to a businessman and Confederate veteran, she was largely self-educated. After the death of her mother and during a financial downturn, she began writing in order to help support her family. It worked. Johnston’s second and most famous novel, To Have and to Hold (1900), broke existing publishing records by selling 60,000 copies in advance and more than 135,000 copies during its first week of publication. A romantic tale of colonial Virginia, the book proved to be the biggest popular success between the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 and Gone with the Wind in 1936. Two novels of the American Civil War (1861–1865) ran her afoul of some prominent southerners, including Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s widow, while her increased interest in mysticism puzzled readers and led to a critical and popular decline. Still, Johnston’s social activism may be of more lasting importance than her literary output. She was an early member of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, using her reputation as a “southern lady” to the movement’s full advantage. And in 1923, she wrote the influential short story “Nemesis,” depicting the horrors of lynching. Johnston, who never married, died at her home in Bath County in 1936.