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What’s for breakfast?


One in 8.5 Million

What’s for breakfast?

Toaster, about 1925, Hotpoint (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1996.153.9, Gift of Stefan Osdene)

Toaster, about 1925, Hotpoint (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number:
1996.153.9, Gift of Stefan Osdene)

When bread’s surface temperature reaches about 310 degrees Fahrenheit, sugars and starches start to caramelize and take on intense flavors. Although people have toasted bread for thousands of years, creating an electrical device to accomplish the task was quite a challenge. This toaster was made possible by the invention of a wire made of nickel and chromium that could be heated quickly to a red-hot temperature repeatedly without burning out or breaking.

Toaster, about 1925, Hotpoint (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1996.153.9, Gift of Stefan Osdene)

Toaster, about 1925, Hotpoint (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number:
1996.153.9, Gift of Stefan Osdene)

The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at

New Normals for the Old Dominion


Making Progress


Two members of the Harrisonburg Class of 1916

Today women outnumber men at most colleges across the country, but higher education for women was not always a reality. By the mid nineteenth century, the wealthiest Virginian women had several opportunities for a degree, through schools like Hollins, Randolph-Macon Women’s College, and by 1901, Sweet Briar, but these were private  and costly to attend. At the turn of the century, women received an alternative. When the State Female Normal School in Farmville opened in 1884, it was Virginia’s first public institution of higher education for women.

The State Normal Schools for Women, so called because they set the norms (or standards) for teaching, were born out of a Reconstruction-era focus on public education. Virginia was creating more and more public schools across the state with a demand for trained, capable teachers to lead them. In 1902, the General Assembly passed a resolution to create additional normals to support the school system. After six years of legislative sparring, two schools were founded in Harrisonburg and Fredericksburg, joining the normal in Farmville. In 1910, the fourth was added in Radford.


The New Normals

The state normal schools were strategically placed throughout Virginia so as to cover each of the major geographical regions. Women tended to take advantage of the college closest to home: Fredericksburg typically attracted students from the east coast, Farmville and Radford from the south and west, and Harrisonburg from the Valley. For the Fredericksburg normal, 61% of students enrolled in 1915 came from within 50 miles, and nearly 20% were local.

The state normals were much more accessible than other women’s colleges, with affordable tuition, and all fees waved for students who agreed to teach in Virginia public schools upon graduation. Of course, they were still not accessible to a large percentage of teachers in the state: the normals were, like all education in Virginia, racially segregated.

The option was popular. In the pilot year, Harrisonburg and Fredericksburg both received more applicants than they could accommodate. By the 1918-1919 academic year, the schools had a total of 1,470 students attending.

“No Flapper Types”

Coursework at the state normals both challenged and supported traditional roles for women. From their founding, the schools accepted the changing face of womanhood. A 1903 General Assembly report on the normal schools acknowledged, “Man is no longer the sole breadwinner, nor is woman any longer the non-productive, petted, and idealized idol of chivalry.” Women participated in competitive athletics, learned practical skills like woodworking and basic mechanics, and above all received the professional training for a career in teaching. Fredericksburg even supported a rifle club, which proclaimed in the 1914 yearbook, “There is no reason why a girl should not shoot as well as a boy.”


Both Farmville and Fredericksburg had rifle or hunting clubs for women to learn or improve shooting skills. (“The Virginian,”1913 Farmville yearbook, LB 1972 L6 1913, p. 146)

The state normal schools advocated for higher standards of teaching paired with higher salaries for teachers, and trained women to be “leaders of thought in their communities.” In doing so, they helped elevate an acceptable women’s role to a respected professional field, and allowed many women to pursue careers and independence.


As part of their training, women student-taught in public schools. Here, a Farmville senior teaches at the grade school operated by the normal. (“Book of Views,” Radford, 1916, LB1972 .R3 B7)

However, it would be a stretch to say the normals were socially progressive. In the early 20th century, teaching was considered an appropriate sphere for women, as an extension of the home, and many courses focused on homemaking skills like sewing, cooking, and childcare. A 1915 bulletin of the Fredericksburg school clearly stated the school’s dual purposes:

“Utmost in the thought of this school will be the conception that the young women within its walls should be trained, not merely to occupy the best positions as teachers, but also to occupy…their natural positions in the home.”

The normals sought to thoroughly prepare women to be both teachers and wives and mothers. Though they stressed professionalism, they did not emphasize career at the expense of familial duty. To this end, high standards were kept for social behavior, with curfews and standards for dress strictly enforced. The Harrisonburg application put it clearly: “The flapper type, lacking in seriousness of purpose, not desired.”

The Normal Life


The Farmville senior basketball team (“The Virginian,” 1914 Farmville yearbook, LB1972 L6 1914, p. 175)

The young women who attended these schools lived in this duality, as both aspiring professionals and aspiring homemakers. In yearbooks and memoirs, women looked back fondly on their time at the normals. Despite the rules, they enjoyed socializing in town and participating in clubs and athletics on campus. Basketball was especially popular- each school had several teams.

In the 1915 Harrisonburg yearbook, “The Schoolma’am,” seniors prophesized where their fellow classmates would be after graduation. Many were destined for marriage to ambassadors, football players, and “6 foot 2 farmers.” But others (lightheartedly) foresaw bolder paths: “the first of Virginia’s daughters to take up law,” a platform speaker for woman’s rights, sideshow performer for Barnum and Bailey, and secretary to the first woman president of the United States – this before women could vote! In the end, however, most students accomplished what they came to the normal school to do: By 1919, 82% of graduates from the Fredericksburg school were teaching.


The 1919 Fredericksburg yearbook followed up with graduates to see where classmates landed. It is unclear whether students listed as married were also working outside the home. (Data from Alvey’s “History of Mary Washington College,” LD 7251 M222 A55)


The normal schools at Farmville, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, and Radford hint at early 20th century tension between tradition and progress. Racially segregated, strictly supervised, and emphasizing duties to the home, the schools advocated established social roles. But for many of the thousands of women who attended, they also presented an opportunity for higher education, independence, and a professional career, and facilitated a first glimpse of more radical concepts like women’s suffrage.

You may have guessed by their locations: today, the former normal schools continue to advance education in Virginia as James Madison University, Longwood University, Radford University, and, my own alma mater, the University of Mary Washington.

The Virginia Historical Society has a wealth of resources from the State Normal Schools for women, including yearbooks, academic catalogs, student newspapers, viewbooks, and school histories. Many of the materials are quite entertaining, and are sure to be of special interest to alumni.

Candice Roland is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.

Meet the Staff: Graham Dozier


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet Graham Dozier

Meet the Staff: Graham DozierWhat is your job title?

Manager of Publications

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I began working at the VHS as a library clerk in May of 1995.

What are your job duties?

I oversee the production of the society’s journal, the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, and newsletter, History Notes, and manage the Banner Lecture series.

How did you become interested in history?

Ever since I was very young I have been interested in history. I was very fortunate to have a handful of great history teachers at different times in my academic career, each of whom nurtured my love of history.

What is the favorite part of your job?

As the managing editor of the Virginia Magazine, I enjoy reading the great variety of articles that get submitted. Virginia’s history is 400 years old and I enjoy learning new things about it with every article I work on.

What has been your most memorable moment at the VHS?

One of my most memorable moments at the VHS was seeing the time capsule from the cornerstone be opened. On May 20, 1912, officials of the Confederate Memorial Association celebrated the laying of the cornerstone of Battle Abbey. A carved niche in the cornerstone contained a time capsule in a copper box. On April 18, 2012, Paul Levengood, VHS President and CEO, removed the one-hundred-year-old time capsule from the cornerstone. The box was stuffed to the lid with more than 100 items, including newspapers, postcards, Confederate army documents and currency, and materials relating to the Confederate Memorial Institute.

Photograph of Graham Dozier and Nelson Lankford looking at documents from the time capsule.

Here I am looking at some of the documents from the time capsule.

Photograph of Graham Dozier and Paul Levengood looking at documents from the time capsule.

What is your favorite item in your office? Why?

A portrait of Confederate colonel Thomas Henry Carter, which hangs on the wall above my desk, is my favorite item in my office because it always reminds me of my favorite historical subject, the Civil War.

What is your favorite collection piece at the VHS?

My favorite collection at the VHS are the Thomas Henry Carter papers (VHS call number: Mss1 C2466a). This collection primarily contains papers relating to service of Thomas Henry Carter in the King William Artillery Battery and as chief of artillery to Daniel Harvey Hill and Jubal A. Early. While working on my book, “A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter,” I spent a lot of time working closely with this collection. I will deliver a Banner Lecture about Thomas Henry Carter at Noon on December 4, 2014 at the VHS. 

Book cover of "A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter"

What is your favorite historical period?

The Civil War era

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy buying and reading books, both fiction and nonfiction.

If you did not work at the VHS, what would you be doing?

I would find some way to research and write about Civil War history.

Read more blogs written by Graham.

Meet the Staff: Chris Van Tassell


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet Chris Van Tassell

Meet the Staff - Chris Van TassellWhat is your job title?

Program Coordinator/Museum Educator

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I began working in the Education Department at the VHS in August 1999 as a work study student from VCU. I was hired full-time in 2001.

What are your job duties?

Since I work in the Education Department, my job duties include developing and conducting programs with teachers, students, and the public.

Chris Van Tassell working with students from St. Gertrudes school.

Here I am working with a group of students from St. Gertrude High School in the VHS reading room.

How did you become interested in history?

I guess my interest developed from a variety of sources. My parents both loved history, so I picked a lot of it up from them. We lived in an isolated area of Essex County surrounded by woods, so I spent a lot of time imagining what went on there in the past. I also remember Greek mythology hooking me big time in second grade. The world those stories were  from seemed very exotic in my imagination and made me want to learn about ancient history.

What is the favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is definitely hearing people share their personal history. I also enjoy reading and conducting research using the VHS collections.

What has been your most memorable moment at the VHS?

There have been many memorable moments, most of which involve a person sharing stories about their own history. It’s amazing how much people will open up about themselves during a tour or during a program when you’re discussing the past.

What is your favorite item in your office? Why?

My favorite item in my office is a Native American hammer rock that sits on my desk. I found it on the ground one day and it reminds me of the pre-recorded past that’s under our feet every all the time. It’s also something I can put my hands on and know that somebody who lived hundreds of years ago used it to do their work. It makes me look a the other objects on my desk and wonder where they’ll be in five hundred years.

Hammer stone

This is the hammer rock that I keep on my desk.

What is your favorite collection piece at the VHS?

I don’t have a single favorite collection piece, but the Bowie knife John Brown had at Harper’s Ferry is quite evocative.

John Brown's Bowie Knife (VHS accession number: 1983.31)

This nineteenth century Bowie knife and sheath were taken from John Brown at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 by J.E.B. Stuart (VHS accession number: 1983.31).

What is your favorite historical period?

A historical period that I find fascinating, but would not want to have lived during, would be the Sengoku or “Warring States” period of Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries. For Virginia, it would be Native American history pre-European contact, though I wouldn’t want to live then either.

What are you hobbies?

My hobbies include DJing, going to shows, dancing, biking, playing video games, watching movies, reading the paper, and raising a feral cat.

If you did not work at the VHS, what would you be doing?

This is hard for me to speculate on since I’ve always just followed opportunities without much planning.  I dunno…  Maybe traveling and teaching abroad or working for an NGO… maybe public school teacher.

Read more blogs written by Chris.

Shaving Kit


One in 8.5 Million

Shaving Kit

Before the invention of the disposable double-edged safety razor in 1895, a straight razor was the easiest, most comfortable method of shaving. This pewter scuttle shaving mug held hot water, and the bowl at the top contained a cake of shaving soap, which was lathered using hot water and applied to the face with a brush. Shaving cream and the application of hot water to relax the hairs of the beard allowed for a closer shave. High quality steel razors, such as these, needed to be kept sharp and honed with the razor strap. These straight razors were given to Washington, D.C., hotel proprietor Cyrus Martin by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis in the mid-1850s. Davis later became the president of the Confederate States of America.


The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at

Tuscany, Napa Valley, Burgundy, and Charlottesville?


“Wine being among the earliest luxuries in which we indulge ourselves, it is desirable that it should be made here and we have every soil, aspect, and climate of the best wine countries, and I myself drank wines made in this state and in Maryland, of the quality of the best Burgundy.” Thomas Jefferson

Each year my wife and I take a wine trip. No, not to taste the big reds in the Napa Valley or to visit the picturesque countryside of Tuscany or to enjoy the elegant wines of Burgundy. Our trip is actually much closer to home, much more economical, and also offers—we believe (and many others believe as well)—equally magnificent views of vineyards and wines. I’m talking about Charlottesville.

Trump Winery

One of our recent wine trips to Charlottesville. A view from Trump Winery.

Some of us may have heard of the emerging wines and wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail, such as Barboursville’s famous Bordeaux style blend “Octagon,” which is my father-in-law’s favorite and which was also served at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, at their reception celebrating the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Some may be familiar with wineries like Blenheim and Trump because of their famous owners. (Blenheim is owned by the musician Dave Mathews, and Trump winery is owned by Donald Trump’s son, Eric.) But Charlottesville is being noted by many others as a viable option for quality wine and a potential wine trip destination. U.S. News and World Report recently listed Charlottesville as one of the ten best wine vacations. Yes, the town stands alongside the wine juggernauts of Napa Valley and Tuscany, and it’s not just because of Central Virginia’s scenic views. It’s also because of the quality of wine. In a blind tasting that pitted eight Virginia wines against eight  European and California ones, leading wine expert Steven Spurrier preferred six of the eight Virginia wines over the European wines. (Spurrier is also known as the organizer of the “Judgement of Paris” or the “Paris Wine Tasting of 1976”  where California wines defeated French wines in a blind taste test.  This event was portrayed in the 2008 wine cult movie Bottle Shock)  Learn more about the blind tasting.

“Compared to the other American states, Virginia is a national contender,” he declared, explaining that the cooler climate than the West Coast produces wines of brighter, fresher character that are more food-friendly “and most importantly, call for a second glass.”    — Steven Spurrier

Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t be surprised at the U.S. News and World Reports wine vacation list and at what wine experts are saying about Virginia’s wines today. He believed that Virginia had potential. According to Jefferson, “we could, in the United States, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1808) He first planted grapes near Monticello in 1770, and a couple years later, he gave 2,000 acres to Italian Phiip Mazzei, who brought over several different European vine cuttings and attempted to plant them near Monticello. Mazzei’s and Jefferson’s efforts in America soon switched from wine to helping the American cause in the Revolution, and by 1780 the vineyards had faded away. Despite their belief in Virginia’s wine capabilities, they were never able to successfully produce quality wine. Bad weather, plant disease, and insects kept them from fulfilling their dreams of producing wine that would rival those in Europe.

In the early nineteenth century, Dr. D. N. Norton of Richmond began to experiment with an American hybrid grape called the Norton Virginia. He was able to successfully domestic a grape that was both hearty and disease resistant.  More importantly however was that the Norton grape produced flavorful wine and became the foundation for Virginia Table Red, the Virginia Claret. (The Virginia Historical Society hosted a banner lecture on the Norton Grape a couple years ago. Listen to the audio of the lecture.)

One of the wineries that capitalized on Dr. Norton’s work was the Monticello Wine Company (MWC), established in 1873. In a four-story brick building located in Charlottesville on Perry Drive, the company sourced it’s grapes from local vineyards and had the capacity to produce 200,000 gallons of wine. Their Virginia Claret won several awards, including a gold medal in Vienna in 1873 and a silver medal in Paris in 1878. Their Virginia Claret is what put Virginia on the wine map and made Charlottesville the “capital of the Virginia wine belt.” Their other wines were also successful. Virginia Champagne was even used by Governor Montague’s daughter, Gay, to christen the battleship U.S.S. Virginia in Newport News in 1904. By 1914 the MWC and other Virginia wineries began to fade away as a result of crop disease, competition with California wines, and the emergence of prohibition. The Virginia wine industry would not remerge again until the 1970’s, when Barboursville and a few other Virginia wineries began to establish vineyards.

Today, Virginia vineyards are well established. They have become vacation destinations, and the wines they produce are being discussed alongside those made in Tuscany, Burgundy, and the Napa Valley. It’s been a struggle to produce quality wine in Virginia, but they say that vines that struggle make better grapes. So the next time you visit a Virginia winery and taste a flavorful Cabernet Franc, smell a fragrant Viognier, or enjoy a historic Norton, hopefully you’ll agree with Mr. Jefferson that yes, Virginia does “make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”

View from Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards.

One of our recent wine trips to Charlottesville. A view from Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards.

Other wine-related information

Greg Hansard is the Manager of Web and Digital Services at the Virginia Historical Society.

The Abolitionists


On October 16, 1859, John Brown led eighteen followers in a raid on the federal arsenal and armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown planned to use the weapons seized to arm slaves and initiate a general uprising. No one rallied to Brown’s banner, however, and the insurrection collapsed. On October 18, a detachment of marines under Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee attacked the engine house of the armory where the raiders held a handful of hostages. Most of Brown’s men were killed in the attack, and he was wounded. Captured and arrested for treason, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On December 2, 1859, John Brown was hanged in Charlestown, Virginia.

William Gwathmey's diary (VHS call number: Mss1 G9957 c FA2)

Diary, 1859, of William Gwathmey (1794-1875). Note the limited space available under each date. Farmers diaries usually included little more than notations about the weather and the work performed that day. (VHS call number: Mss1 G9957 c FA2)

The event did not go unnoticed by William Gwathmey, a King William County planter and physician. Like many farmers he kept a diary, recording details about the weather, farming operations, physician’s visits, and activities at the Beulah Baptist Church. Only occasionally did national events intrude on his daily routine. However, on the date of Brown’s execution, Gwathmey wrote, “old ossawatomie Brown to be hanged at Charlestown for murder and insurrection—wicked beast[ly] man.” Gwathmey’s diary entries on this and subsequent days give us a glimpse into the fear, anger, and confusion of a white Virginia planter in response to the Harpers Ferry raid.

Gwathmey’s reference to “old ossawatomie” suggests his knowledge of Brown’s role in the fighting between anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces in Kansas. He wrote that the hanging “occurred without outbreak,” revealing a fairly common fear among white southerners that abolitionists would attempt to rescue Brown. Two days later, he wrote that he heard “old Brown was in this neighborhood call[in]g himself McLane sell[in]g trusses.” This statement attests to the power of rumor. John Brown was never in King William County, and Gwathmey’s acceptance of a reported sighting reveals more about his fears than it does about the abolitionist’s travels. The claim that Brown was selling trusses (devices worn for support) may be a way of demystifying and emasculating him. It also reinforces the notion held by many slaveholders that the abolitionists were unmanly and effeminate.Created Equal - The Abolitionists

Gwathmey and other whites in the congregation at Beulah undoubtedly found solace in the passages read by Brother Turpin that day, especially Christ’s words to his disciples: “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25). Gwathmey recorded these as “He hated me without a cause.” Perhaps Turpin chose this reading in response to John Brown’s address to the court in Charlestown after his sentencing a month earlier.

“This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to ‘remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.’ I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done—as I have always freely admitted I have done—in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments—I submit; so let it be done!”

On Thursday evening, November 6, at 6:30 p.m., the VHS will show an edited version of the documentary, The Abolitionists, as part of the Created Equal Film/Discussion series. The series is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and is hosted by the VHS in partnership with the Richmond Peace Education Center. It is supported in part by the Gay Community Center of Richmond’s VHS Guy Kinman Research Award.

The documentary tells the stories of John Brown and four other prominent abolitionists.

Bill Obrochta  is the manager of educational services at the Virginia Historical Society.


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