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Valentine, Lila (1865–1921)

Valentine, Lila (1865–1921)

American educational reformer and suffragist. Born Lila Hardaway Meade on February 4, 1865, in Richmond, Virginia; died after an operation for an intestinal obstruction on July 14, 1921, in Richmond; daughter of Richard Hardaway Meade (founder of a wholesale drug firm) and Kate (Fontaine) Meade; married Benjamin Batchelder Valentine (a banker), on October 28, 1886 (died 1919); children: one (stillborn).

Lila Valentine was born in 1865 into a wealthy family in Richmond, Virginia, where she was tutored at home and attended private schools. Dissatisfied, she undertook her own education, reading widely in her father's library, and became interested in the arts. In 1886, she married affluent banker Benjamin Batchelder Valentine, and two years later gave birth to a stillborn child, leaving her in frail health that would persist for the rest of her life. In 1892, her husband took her to England, hoping the change would help her migraine headaches and attacks of acute indigestion. Stimulated by the liberal climate in England, she returned to Virginia hoping to spread her progressive views, especially on universal education, in the South.

Convinced that everyone, regardless of race or gender, should receive an education, Valentine and several other women, including Mary Branch Munford , were inspired to found the Richmond Education Association after a visit to Richmond in April 1900 by a Boston advocate of kindergartens. Valentine served as president until 1904 of this association, which was dedicated to the improvement of public schools. In addition, as president of the Richmond Training School for Kindergartners, founded in 1901, she helped introduce kindergartens and vocational training into Richmond's schools and obtained a $600,000 city grant for a new high school. In 1902, Valentine attended the annual conference of the Southern Education Board, a regional group dedicated to the same goals. She succeeded in having the group convene in Richmond the following year, one of the first racially integrated meetings held in that city since the Civil War. Because of her work, she was appointed to the executive committee of the Co-operative Educational Association of Virginia, a citizens' organization devoted to raising the standards of schools in the state.

While working with the schools, Valentine recognized that many students were in poor health, and that the state needed public health facilities. With the aid of volunteer nurses, she founded the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association of Richmond. She also organized the Anti-Tuberculosis Auxiliary, which led the first major campaign against tuberculosis in Virginia. The auxiliary established a dispensary, clinics, and Pine Camp, a tuberculosis hospital.

In 1904, Valentine's own poor health required that she take a break from public life. The following year, she returned to England, where the active women's suffrage movement convinced her that because most political legislation affected women directly, they should have a voice in determining it. In 1909, the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia was formed, and Valentine became its president because she was, according to Lloyd C. Taylor, Jr., "the only woman who combined the requisite courage and intelligence" with "the inexhaustible patience of which victors and martyrs are made." She served as president of the organization for 11 years, during which time she worked tirelessly for the vote. In 1912 she addressed the Virginia House of Delegates, and in 1913 she gave more than 100 speeches throughout Virginia.

Valentine's opponents tried to discredit her because she supported education for African-Americans, was active in groups such as the National Child Labor Committee and the American Association for Labor Legislation, and because she had spoken to the Central Labor Council of Richmond. She countered this by making unexpected appearances, on one occasion showing up at a meeting of the Virginia Road Builders' Association to assure its members that women knew the value of better roads and would vote for them given the opportunity. She was also active in the National American Woman Suffrage Association and served on its Congressional committee in 1916.

Valentine's husband, who had always been a strong supporter of her work, died in 1919, and Valentine moved to Maine and lived in seclusion with her two sisters for awhile. Early in 1920, realizing that the suffrage amendment would soon be ratified, she decided that women needed better political education in order to vote intelligently. In April 1920, the University of Virginia granted her request to hold a three-day conference on government. She also urged that public schools add civics to the curriculum. Her health was still poor, however, and she died on July 14, 1921, following surgery for an intestinal obstruction, at age 56. She was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

sources:

Taylor, Lloyd C., Jr. "Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine," in Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Ed. by Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer

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