Women helped shape the Peninsula we know today, but their contributions are sometimes overlooked or obscured.
Here are ten women who contributed to the physical, spiritual and cultural growth of this community. Some managed to make a mark on the world.
The charismatic favorite daughter of Indian chieftain Powhatan, Pocahontas was only about 12 years old when the first English settlers arrived in 1607 to found the Virginia colony at
Following her conversion to Christianity and her marriage to John Rolfe in 1614, she traveled to England and was received as royalty by the Court. Her premature death there in 1617 only added to the romance of what has long been one of America's most enduring founding legends.
Cynthia Beverley Tucker Washington Coleman
Inspired by the rich history of the town where she grew up and lived, this far-sighted Williamsburg woman co-founded the
Beginning with the restoration of the ancient gravestones at Bruton Parish Church in 1884, Coleman planted the first seeds of the preservation movement that ultimately led to the establishment of
Talent seemed to effortlessly ooze from singer, actress and
There were brains behind that talent, too. She wrote books and earned her bachelor's degree in theology from
The influence of Ella Fitzgerald, known as America's First Lady of Song, is strong and enduring. That voice — swinging, pure and optimistic — had an almost universal power to charm.
Fitzgerald died in 1996 at age 79. When she last performed near hometown of Newport News in 1992, residents from her former neighborhood presented her with a plaque honoring her achievements, which include more than a dozen Grammy awards and more than 40 million albums sold.
"I'm just so proud to have passed through Virginia," she told the crowd at the
That festival, formerly held at
When you drive past the
Kilgore served 22 years on the
It was a time of transformation for the city, which was once described as moving from "a sleepy community into a vibrant, vital city" under Kilgore's watch.
The bold and imaginative mayor helped create the city's commerce department — a forerunner to today's economic development and tourism efforts. The retail corridor on Mercury Boulevard and the opening of Coliseum Mall were directly related to her growth efforts.
The Hampton champion died in 2001, a few days before her 78th birthday.
Across city lines, Jessie Rattley pioneered the position as first black and first woman elected to the Newport News City Council. From 1986 to 1990 — the last four years of a 20-year council stint — Rattley served as the city's first black and first female mayor.
Remembered as an advocate for the southeastern community, Rattley fought to win millions in urban renewal funds for the city. She also championed investments into what is now known as Jefferson Lab, and much of the northern and western parts of Newport News grew under her watch, attracting employers like Canon to the area.
Her fighting spirit was memorialized in 2001, when her body lay in state in city council chambers for five hours. Local historians believe she was the first person ever accorded such an honor in the city.
Described as a woman of perseverance and inspiration, Christian has been a noted educator and champion of health issues and families. In 1985, she became the first black person to be elected to the
Raised in Hampton, she graduated from Hampton Institute, now
Christian is the first black woman to serve on the Hampton City School Board, from 1973 to 1979. She has been a strong advocate for numerous community initiatives. The Mary T. Christian Auditorium at
This free black Hampton woman ran a clandestine school for African-Americans before the Civil War, helping to create an unusually literate, well-educated community of slaves and free blacks who played crucial roles in the "contraband" slave settlements that led to emancipation.
She also was the first teacher hired by the American Missionary Association for the pioneering contraband slave schools that later developed into Hampton University, and she continued to be a symbol of African-American aspiration long after her premature death in 1862.
Since 1965, The Sarah Bonwell Hudgins Center in Hampton has provided services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including
A behind-the-scenes powerhouse, Zucker, herself a New York transplant, raised millions for the center, which operates on private donations. She was its first executive director and held that position for almost two decades. She continued her involvement with the center's foundation until her retirement in 1994, when James C. Windsor, chairman of the board, said, "Sylvia is the best validation I know of the notion that one person can make a difference."
Zucker died in 2009 at the age of 91. Friends described her as personable, driven, unselfish, and having a passion for helping those with intellectual and developmental disabilities lead productive lives through work and play.
Flora D. Crittenden
A former educator, whose name is now on a Newport News middle school (formerly G.W. Carver High School) Flora Crittenden's influence is felt all through the region. She was born in Brooklyn in 1924 and her family moved to Newport News in 1937, where she attended Huntington High, a segregated high school. She recalled that the supportive atmosphere and committed teachers she encountered there "made me blossom." In 1949, she started teaching at G.W. Carver High School, having earned a degree in health and physical education. In all, she spent more than 30 years as an educator and guidance counselor.