Author: Sandra G. Treadway

Librarian of Virginia

Anna Whitehead Bodeker (1826–1904)

Anna Whitehead Bodeker was a woman suffrage activist who worked to build an intellectual culture of gender equality in Richmond through her writing and sponsorship of public talks by suffragist speakers. Her interest in suffrage was sparked by the activities of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). In 1870, Bodeker hosted some NWSA activists at her Richmond home. With their encouragement, she and several other Richmond women established the Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association, with Bodeker as president. On November 7, 1871, Bodeker, at the urging of the National Woman Suffrage Educational Committee, on which she served, attempted to cast her ballot in the local election, citing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. The election judges refused to accept her vote. In 1872, her petition for legislation granting women the right to vote was presented to the General Assembly, referred to the Committee for Courts of Justice, and ignored. At around this same time, her interest in spiritualism—and her forceful public expression of her beliefs—increased dramatically. Her activism ceased by 1874, when she was released from a yearlong forced confinement in the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton. Bodeker died in 1904.


Sarah Lee Fain (1888–1962)

Sarah Lee Fain was one of the first two women elected to serve in the Virginia General Assembly following ratification in 1920 of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave American women the right to vote. When she took her seat as a delegate from Norfolk in January 1924, Fain and her legislative colleague Helen Timmons Henderson, of Buchanan County, became pioneers whose presence in the Virginia State Capitol signaled the start of women’s full participation in the political life of the state. Virginia changed slowly, however, and six more decades would pass before women served in the state’s legislature in appreciable numbers.