The real story behind a famous 1915 photograph of Richmond suffragists

A group of women is posed in front of the Virginia Washington Monument on the public square in Ri...
The photograph, part of the Adèle Goodman Clark papers held in VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives, depicts the Equal Suffrage League of Richmond, Va.

It began with an email exchange about the date of an often-published photograph of the Equal Suffrage League of Richmond. VCU Libraries and Library of Virginia staff were asking, was it 1915 or 1916? The photograph is part of the Adèle Goodman Clark papers held in VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives.  

Ray Bonis, VCU Libraries senior research associate, began searching through early 20th-century issues of the Richmond Times-Dispatch for a story about whatever parade or suffrage rally might have occasioned the photograph, which depicts 17 women standing around a car in front of a monument on Capitol Square.

Before long, Bonis discovered not only the event, but the actual image in the Feb. 28, 1915, Richmond Times-Dispatch. Surprisingly, the photograph wasn’t taken as part of a parade, but to publicize a suffrage “photo-play,” or silent film called “Your Girl and Mine.”

The story reported that “Your Girl and Mine” would be shown at the Colonial Theater in Richmond on Wednesday and Thursday, March 3-4, 1915. In the days before this showing, the Equal Suffrage League formed a committee, headed by Sophie “Posie” Meredith, to sell tickets and promote the movie. 

Bonis shared his discovery with Alice Campbell, project manager for VCU Libraries’ Social Welfare History Project, who had been researching and posting images of suffrage collections in Special Collections and Archives. Campbell’s previous experience with The Freedom Now project led her to immediately ask, “Who are all those women?” A research project was born.

Identifying the 17 women pictured in the photo took some digging. Married women at that time typically were identified with the title “Mrs.” followed by their husband’s name. This custom makes tracking down a woman’s name and checking her identity a challenge for researchers. Unmarried women, identified as “Miss” followed by their names, can be easier to identify.  

To add to this challenge, as early as the mid-1800s, feminists began to debate whether women should take their husband's surname, and so even more name variations appeared.  

A detailed photo of the members of the Equal Suffrage League shows four of the members.
Researchers identified all 17 members of the Equal Suffrage League.

Both VCU Libraries’ copy of the Equal Suffrage League photo and the version published in the 1915 newspaper were captioned. However, the captions did not agree.   

Using other research on Virginia suffragists, Find A Grave records online, city directories and the federal census, all of the Equal Suffrage League members in the photograph were identified.

John McClure, director of library and research at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, and Kelly Kerney, research assistant at the Valentine, lent their expertise to tracking down some of the most hidden identities.

The Equal Suffrage League women photographed in front of the monument on Capitol Square that day were:

(Left to right in car) Mrs. G. Harvey Clarke (Mary Ellen Pollard Clarke), Mrs. Roy Knight Flannagan (Lucy Catesby Jones Flannagan), Nora Houston, Mrs. John Grant Armistead (Rosalie Fontaine Jones Armistead), Mrs. Alice Overbey Taylor, Mrs. Della E. Hooker (widow of J. W. Hooker), Mrs. Charles Vivian Meredith (Sophie “Posie” Meredith), Mrs. Georgia May Johnson (identified on photo as Mrs. Frank L. Johnson; perhaps Mrs. Francis L. Johnson).

(Left to right outside car) Adèle Clark, Mrs. Archer Gracchus Jones (Annie Boyd Jones), Mrs. John Garland Pollard (Grace Phillips Pollard), Mrs. Carter Wormeley (Sarah Harvie Wormeley), Mrs. Earnest Meade (Aline Jennings Meade), Lynda McClanahan Koiner, Mrs. James Stuart Reynolds (Virginia “Boogie” Dickinson Reynolds), Mrs. W. Hill Urquhart (Dorothy Gordon Tait Urquhart), Mrs. W.W. Foster (Carrie Palmore Hughes Foster).

It is no longer possible to watch “Your Girl and Mine.” The film is considered lost. Only a plot summary and stills, such as ones from a story in Motography: The Motion Picture Trade Journal, give us an idea of how the eight-reel melodrama looked.

For more on the suffrage film and the story behind the photograph, visit the Social Welfare History Project.

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