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Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag


One in 8.5 Million

Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag

In 1993, as a response to high suicide rates among Virginia’s gay, lesbian, and bisexual residents, a group of concerned citizens began discussing the creation of a community center that could serve as a meeting place and sanctuary. After two years of planning—which included designing this banner—the group disbanded before a center could be built. Currently there are numerous regional LGBTQ community centers—including the Gay Community Center of Richmond—that serve people throughout the commonwealth.

Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag

Flag, Virginia Gay Lesbian Bisexual Community Center Flag, c. 1993 (Virginia Historical Society, Gift of Steven Kent Jones, Accession number: 2004.358)


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

Tobacco Boys




Kurt Jensen

Kurt Jensen

We are pleased to share this post by guest author Kurt Jensen.  Kurt is working with VHS’s business history collections this summer. We would like to thank the University of Virginia for partnering with us to offer this internship to one of their recent graduates. 

I find it hard to recommend the book by Maurice Duke and Daniel Jordan about Richmond’s Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Tobacco Merchant, for a light beach read this summer. But it was a tremendously pleasant surprise to find a group of interviews in the Virginia Historical Society archives, conducted during the research for that book, that lend themselves excitingly to dramatization.

If the corporate world of creative advertising in the 1960s can command the attention of so many viewers through the TV show Mad Men, surely so can the story of Universal Leaf through the World Wars. Let’s call it Tobacco Boys.

Postcard - Tobacco Warehouse Scene (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.625.8)

Postcard – Tobacco Warehouse Scene (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.625.8)

It’s a story of young, largely uneducated men who make a great deal of money they don’t know how to spend; American businessmen at the forefront of international business, entertaining clients and buying from suppliers whose languages they hardly know how to speak; and of course their wives, many of whom worked for the company! (At least, before they were married.)

During this period, Universal Leaf ran a highly successful buying and selling operation in Shanghai, China, which helped the company avoid the worst effects of the Great Depression—an early example of successful international diversification.

It wasn’t a simple task, however. Executives like A. I. McOwan, a Scotsman known as “Mac,” had to traverse mainland China, fording dangerous rivers, with armed guards to avoid bandit attacks. Not to mention the fact that this period saw near constant political turmoil in China, from the Nanking Incident in 1927 to the Japanese invasion of the mainland in 1937.

Bombing outside the Palace Hotel

Bombing outside the Palace Hotel; Shanghai, China, August 14, 1937 (Image from Institut d’Asie Orientale via Wikimedia Commons.  Photographer unknown)

 Here’s just one exciting narrative of love and danger in 1941—best-selling novel material—as told by Mac’s wife, Lou:

I met him in May, I think it was, we were engaged in June, and he left in July. . . . In those days it took seventeen days to get to China. He got to the west coast and kept calling me from out there, and so I flew out to San Francisco and we were married out there. . . . I said about three weeks before I met him, “Now listen, I am going on record now, standing here in the Richmond Trust Building, if I ever had to get in an airplane, I will never get in one for anything or anybody.” So you don’t ever know what you are going to do.

Mac planned to take Lou to Hawaii as part of their whirlwind, fairytale wedding and honeymoon, but they were stopped at the British consulate.

It was going from the sublime to nothing. . . . I had a British passport and the man in the British Consulate said, “Don’t take your wife anywhere.” Mac then said, “I thought I would take her to Honolulu,” and they replied, “Don’t you do that.” [T]hey might have known more than we knew.

Like in any good war drama, the British consulate charged Mac with delivering a cache of secret documents, weighted to sink if his boat was attacked. He managed to do so, but shortly after he returned to work, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese Marine Guard took over international business interests in Shanghai and placed the employees in internment camps. The British consulate neglected to put Mac on their books as an official messenger of the British government, so he wasn’t exchanged with Japanese officers during the war. Lou recalled:

I didn’t hear from him for a long time, but once in a while I would get a message from the Red Cross that would be dated last August, and I wouldn’t get it until this August. I didn’t know for five years whether I would ever see him again. However, when I finally saw him down at Main Street Station, I felt like I had never been away from him.

When he finally was released in 1946, he went straight to Universal Leaf of China, which had been taken over by Japanese business men, burst into an executive meeting in his tattered clothes, and gave them a dramatic ultimatum to turn over the company in three days.

How would that be for a season finale?

Mac is just one of the colorful cast of characters at Universal Leaf. Everyone has different stories to tell about Pinkney Harrison, a ranking executive at the time, who was the type to go fishing with a client and accidentally catch the client on the end of his line. Or founder J. P. Taylor, who formed a company named Universal with international ambitions, yet hated to travel.

Universal Leaf logo

Universal Leaf logo, 1947 (Virginia Historical Society, Mss3 UN39a FA2, Box 2, Folder 122)

There’s also Sara Maynard Warwick, who accompanied her husband Pierre on exploratory business trips to South America at the expense of the company and who took the stand in legal proceedings when the issue came up with the IRS. When asked whether she enjoyed the trips, despite being told to say yes or no, she answered, “Well, yes and no,” which I’m sure the judge enjoyed.

The exotic settings, period fashion, high stakes business and war, and the outstanding cast of characters ought to make for excellent TV drama.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

Take me out to the VHS: The Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and a southpaw from UVA


Tomorrow, many of us will celebrate our nation’s birthday through fireworks, family gatherings, and flying the American Flag. Many of these activities have been a part of our culture and way of life since the eighteenth century. At the end of this month, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) will celebrate another of our national symbols—the national pastime of baseball. On Saturday, July 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., the VHS will hold a behind the scenes tour Batter Up: Baseball Memorabilia in the VHS Collection.

From poet Walt Whitman to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, baseball has been touted as our national pastime.

I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us. (Walt Whitman)

Baseball has been called the national pastime and rightly so because it stands for the fair play, clean living and good sportsmanship which are our national heritage. That is why it has such a warm place in our hearts. (Franklin D Roosevelt)

I agree with Whitman and Roosevelt, and I have a particularly biased opinion of our national pastime, because it was part of my life for more than twenty years. As a Chesterfield, Virginia, native who played in the local South Richmond little league system and then went on to pitch for the recent runner-up in the College World Series, the University of Virginia Cavaliers, I’ve been involved in this wonderful game since I was five years old. I have a passion for it, so when I was given the opportunity to showcase some of our great baseball collections in a behind the scenes tour, I jumped on the opportunity.

UVA autographed baseball

2003 University of Virginia autographed baseball with VHS Manager of Web and Digital Services, Greg Hansard’s, signature.

Our collections are full of unique baseball memorabilia that tell the story of both the country’s and Virginia’s national pastime. The collections range from jerseys and baseballs to baseball cards and photographs. They tell the stories of little leaguers, hometown heroes, all stars, and hall of famers.

Highlights of the collection range from photographs of Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb to a signed jersey of All Star and Cy Young award-winner Justin Verlander. However, about a month ago, a truly special baseball collection came to the VHS.

Babe Ruth

1921 glass plate negative of Babe Ruth (VHS: 1991.1.31808)

Ty Cobb

1912 glass plate negative of Ty Cobb (VHS: 1991.1.5596)

Richard and Kathy Verlander, parents of Justin Verlander,  donating Justin's signed jersey to the VHS on Saturday, February, 8, 2014.

Richard and Kathy Verlander, parents of MLB pitcher Justin Verlander, donating Justin’s signed jersey to the VHS on February, 8, 2014.

It was a relatively normal day at the society when one of my colleagues brought in a box of donated items. They stopped by my office and asked me to take a look at some of the items. As I sifted through the box, I picked up a baseball that caught my eye. There were two very distinct signatures on the ball—“Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra.” I couldn’t believe it! As I continued to look at the ball, I found other names of Hall of Famers scattered on the ball. It was a New York Yankees autographed baseball. Now that my heartbeat was racing, I continued to peer into the box hoping to find another jewel. (And I did.) I couldn’t believe my eyes as I picked up another baseball peppered with signatures. This one included the signatures of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. It was a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball. After further investigation, I was able to determine they were both from 1956, and the significance of a 1956 Yankees and Dodgers ball is, you guessed it, the Yankees and Dodgers played each other in the World Series, which the Yankees won 4-3. Despite these baseballs being national treasures, they also have a distinct Virginia connection. During the 1956 season the Yankees farm team was the Richmond Virginians.

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers autographed baseball

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers autographed baseball (VHS: 2013.86.84_5)

1956 New York Yankees autographed baseball

1956 New York Yankees autographed baseball (VHS: 2013.86.83_4)


So come to the VHS on July 26 to learn more about not only these 1956 World Series baseballs but also the many more items in our collections related to baseball as we celebrate our national pastime.

Appropriately enough, tomorrow this southpaw from UVA will be celebrating our nation’s birthday while watching a ball game from the bleachers at the Diamond. Happy Fourth of July!

Are you interested in signing up for this behind the scenes tour?  Learn more about Batter Up: Baseball Memorabilia in the VHS Collection.

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

Fun in the Sun: Virginia Vacations through Time

(Virginia Historical Society, 2000.136.194)

Fun along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk (VHS 2000.136.194)


Planning a vacation in Virginia can be more difficult than you imagine—when presented with the array of amazing destinations mere hours from your doorstep, it can be a challenge to opt for just one vacation spot. Do you spend your time camping in the forested beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains? Do you stroll along battlefields once trod by the greats of Virginia history? Or, do you sail down the Chesapeake, sampling local seafood along the way? Choices, choices, choices.

Although I grew up in Maryland, my childhood summer vacations always meant a trip to Virginia Beach. I caught the beach bug early on, likely from my father, who grew up in Norfolk and had a fervent love for the beach. I’d willingly suffer through four hours of travel in the backseat of a Toyota Tercel, knowing hours of swimming, sand, and sunbathing lay ahead as my well-deserved reward. Somehow, summer didn’t seem official until I was slathered with SPF 50 and knee-deep in the surf on a stretch of beach off of 77th Street.


Kids are welcome at the shore (VHS 2000.136.198)

I wasn’t the first person to fall in love with the charms of Virginia Beach, of course; vacationers have been drawn to its coastal charms for generations. The resort area of Virginia Beach became an incorporated town in 1906, but travelers had gravitated to the area since electrification and rail service came there in the late 1880s. In the first four decades of the twentieth century, vacationers increasingly saw the town as a family-friendly destination, where they could frequent the new amusement parks and stroll along the boardwalk with their children.

The explosive growth continued after World War II; the four permanent military installations in the region meant a dramatic rise in residents, and the resort area benefited from that population boom. The development of highways and the increase in car ownership also drove up visitation to the town. Soon, visitors from across the nation were trekking to the shoreline for their summer vacations. Today, Virginia Beach boasts a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records as home to the longest pleasure beach in the world, and it rakes in more than 300 million tourism dollars yearly.

The photographs I’ve included in this post are just a few of the pieces I’ll be sharing with participants of my Behind the Scenes tour this Saturday (June 28, 2014) at the VHS. I’ve found a great selection of souvenirs, scrapbooks, postcards, maps, and other vacation-themed treasures from our collection. I hope you’ll join me this weekend for a stroll through our commonwealth’s vibrant vacation spots.

Caroline Legros is the School Program Coordinator at the Virginia Historical Society.










“Keep your powder dry”


One in 8.5 Million

“Keep your powder dry”

To pass away long hours at sea aboard USS United States, midshipman John Randolph Bryan, carved intricate designs—ships, flowers, animals, and patriotic symbols—into these horns, which served as containers for gunpowder.

May 2014 marked the 217th anniversary of the launching USS United States—one of the United States’ first battleships. After being decommissioned in 1849, she rotted away for twelve years near Norfolk until the Confederate navy repaired her for service during the Civil War—after renaming her CSS Confederate States.

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

Road Trippin’


There’s just something about a summer in Virginia—and nothing captures the carefree spirit of the season like a road trip. Since its beginnings, the automobile has represented entertainment as much as practicality. It brought new excitement to the summer vacation as well, enabling revelers to enjoy all Virginia had to offer with new ease.

On Roads

A Holladay family photo album contains images from a summer vacation. Here new automobiles travel through old Virginia dirt. (MSS1 H7185h 376)

By 1900, Virginians were revved for the automobile, but the commonwealth’s infrastructure wasn’t. Dirt roads turned to mud pits in a summer storm, impassable for new driving machines, and bumpy country paths served horses better than motors and tires. As infrastructure caught up, early twentieth-century road trips were fascinating moments where old met new. Massive road-building efforts in the 1910s and 1920s, however, gave Virginians even more reason to take a summer vacation.

Car Troubles

The car radically changed the way Americans got around, bringing new joys—and frustrations—to the travel experience. In the same way car problems plague modern travelers, the earliest automobiles were prone to overheating and other mechanical malfunctions.

One summer road trip in August of 1924 ended in a familiar frustration. A family member wrote to Mollie McLaughlin of Richmond regarding a road trip misadventure:

Dear Mollie, Liz and I made it after much cussing and discussing, but Oh! what a trip . . . had to stop about every two miles and fill up with water and then it would boil going down hill. . . . I must have lost two or three hours, and also my religion. (August 7, 1924, MSS1 M2225a)

For all the excitement the automobile brought, it added a little of that hair-pulling, tire-kicking irritation not unfamiliar to twenty-first century drivers.

 Enjoying Virginia

New highways systems made Virginia’s treasures more accessible than ever before. A pamphlet promoting the Tidewater region boasted:

The state of Virginia, with her historic shrines, seaside resorts, mountains, caverns, and other natural wonders, presents to the tourist a charm and interest not to be surpassed anywhere. A fine road system enables one to get from place to place, by motor, with utmost ease.

G3882.T5.P2.1937_TidewaterTourismMapEarly twentieth-century Virginians enjoyed summers in many of the same ways we do today. Richmond teen Helen Gilkeson recorded in her diary a June filled with fishing and camping trips, dips in the creek, and parties on cool nights. Though in 1908 she still relied on older means of transportation (for example, horse drawn carriage), she marveled at a first ride in an automobile.

Watermelon seeds glued to the pages of the Gilkeson diary (MSS1 G3973a)

Watermelon seeds glued to the pages of the Gilkeson diary (MSS1 G3973a)

Henry Wise used the summer of 1938—and his automobile—to explore Civil War battlefields (MSS1 W7547a 6,701). His account of how he “sped along on hard surfaced roads” but encountered an “endless number of automobiles” will sound familiar to current travelers.

By the postwar era, cars were everywhere and more reliable than ever. Jane Allen Hall recorded her Virginia travels in the mid 1950s, when she enjoyed visiting Williamsburg, the Shenandoah Valley, and even the Virginia Historical Society.


Jane Allen Hall filled this massive scrapbook from her statewide travels. (MSS 5.7 H1443.1)

Jane Allen Hall filled this massive scrapbook from her statewide travels. (MSS 5:7 H1443.1)


Drive On

A century later, the car is still an American’s best friend—though at times worst enemy. So if you find yourself parked on I-95, or halted by a flat, remember at least you aren’t pouring water into your radiator. And if you can’t take the heat, come see these manuscripts and more with a visit to the VHS’s (air conditioned) Reading Room!



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

The Problem

Leon M. Bazile graduated from Richmond College (now the University of Richmond) in 1910.  (Virginia Historical Society, 1991.1.1652)

Leon M. Bazile graduated from the law school at the University of Richmond in 1910. (Virginia Historical Society, 1991.1.1652)

In my blog of March 12, 2014, I wrote about the papers of Leon M. Bazile, a collection I processed back in 1987. As I read through the papers a quarter century later, I was struck by a series of letters between Bazile and his future wife, Virginia Hamilton Bowcock. The two began their courtship in early 1917. At the time, Bazile was a twenty-six-year-old lawyer working in the attorney general’s office in Richmond. Bowcock, as her letters reveal, was smart, serious, and devoted to her church work. She taught Sunday school and at one point had considered becoming a missionary. Her devotion must have been attractive to Bazile, who also was deeply religious. Their courtship moved along quickly.

Leon visited Virginia at her home in Anniston, Alabama, and upon returning wrote of his love and his desire to be married. Virginia, however, saw things differently. It was clear that she was as much in love as he but could not consider marriage. She urged Leon to forget about her.

He was distraught. After beginning several letters between June 11 and June 23, Leon finally wrote: “I have delayed writing to you not because I have failed to think of you, for scarcely a conscious moment has passed me in which I did not think of you, but because I have been trying to think of some way in which to solve the one Problem, the correct solution of which means more to me than any question I have had to face in the past.”

Virginia wrote back: “[P]lease don’t go to so much trouble about solving the Problem, for Leon, I can never be more than a friend to you and it hurts me for you to take all that trouble just for me.”

The Problem? Leon Bazile was Roman Catholic. Virginia Bowcock was Baptist.

However, the couple was in love and tried to work through this one difference. At first, their correspondence revolved around doctrine. Virginia sent Leon books and articles explaining her faith. Leon minimized their differences, while simultaneous asserting his commitment to Catholicism. He addressed Virginia as a lawyer would a judge. “I am enclosing herewith a little brief on one of the questions we will have to discuss. I am afraid it is a little offensive although it is not intended that way.” Virginia rejected both his attitude and his argument. She urged Leon to speak to several ministers “and let them discuss ‘Our Problem’ with you. They can discuss it so much better than I can, and especially when I cannot talk with you.”

Over the summer and fall of 1917, the couple drew closer together, even though the problem remained. Leon visited Anniston, and he and Virginia became engaged. “I can hardly realize that I am about to become the husband of the sweetest and most desirable woman in the world,” he wrote shortly after his return. But latter in his missive it became clear that the problem was still present. “I have been thinking very seriously about your three questions. . . . I would not think of letting you go to church unaccompanied by me nor would I for one moment think of attempting to place any restrictions on the place or manner in which you choose to perform your religious duties. . . . The second question is giving me the most trouble. . . . Couldn’t you dear, agree that the family be Catholic?”

Telegram from Virginia Hamilton Bowcock to her fiance Leon M. Bazile dated October 29, 1917: "Unless you can agree to second proposition useless to come." (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 B3483 a FA2)

Telegram from Virginia Hamilton Bowcock to her fiance Leon M. Bazile dated October 29, 1917: “Unless you can agree to second proposition useless to come.” (Virginia Historical Society, Mss1 B3483 a FA2)

She could not. As Leon prepared to return to Anniston, he received a telegram: “Unless you can agree to second proposition useless to come.” That same day, Virginia wrote Leon, “[w]hen I marry you, I will have to give up some of my dearest friends who will never be the same to me (if I marry you.) You have no idea of what this problem means to me. This is one question that needs to be decided now and although it may mean giving [you up] I will have to do it, unless you agree to the Baptist faith being the faith of our family.”

He could not. “Can not you agree that the religion of the family be Catholic? I have tried in every way I could to see a way out of the matter but there seems no other way. Without this settled I could not get a priest to marry me and if I was not married by a priest I would be excommunicated. . . . Please try, Virginia, to agree on this.” Five days later, on November 5, he repeated his plaint. “The Bishop told your Uncle Alexander, who is on very good terms with the Bishop, that he would issue the necessary permit for our marriage provided I gave assurance that our children would be raised as Catholics and you promised not to interfere with their raising on this respect.”

"The problem" that haunted Leon and Virginia largely revolved around the raising of their future children.  Pictured here is their daughter Virginia Lee Bazile in 1921.  (Virginia Historical Society, 1991.1.1654)

“The problem” that haunted Leon and Virginia largely revolved around the raising of their future children. Pictured here is their daughter Virginia Lee Bazile in 1921. (Virginia Historical Society, 1991.1.1654)

Virginia, offended and angry, wrote, “I would give anything in my power to be able to agree with you, but neither you nor I nor your church nor mine has the right to decide the religion of our children. That is the question each much decide for himself and we are only responsible to God. . . . How could you take this privilege away?”

The correspondence does not reveal how the couple worked through the problem. Perhaps his impending induction into the army (and subsequent tour of duty in France during World War I) helped encourage them to reach an understanding. Whatever the circumstances, the papers of Leon Bazile include a list of eight promises he made Virginia. The list was addressed to her, written on the stationery of the attorney general’s office and dated January 23, 1918. Three days later Leon M. Bazile and Virginia Hamilton Bowcock were married in Richmond.

To Miss Virginia H. Bowcock,

My Dear Virginia:

I agree that I will never coerce you or in the slightest manner interfere with your practicing your religion in any way that you see fit.

I will not require you to be present at the baptism of the children.

I will go with you to your church except on second Sunday’s and on special occasions.

I agree with you that the clause relating to the education of the children as Catholics does not mean that they must be educated in catholic Schools, but only means that they must be taught their catechism.

While the children when old enough will have to go to the Catholic Church when I go they can [on] other occasions go to your church with you and I will not coerce them against their will as to religious matters.

I recognize the fact that every person who reaches the age of discretion has the right to make such choice as his conscience dictates.

While I cannot agree to surrender the care and control of our children, in the case of your death, I will respect your wishes as to who shall aid in their raising, provided the same does not necessitate their being kept away from my home.

The above promises are made on my part in consideration of your having agreed to marry me.

January 25, 1918

Leon M. Bazile

Forty years after his marriage to Virginia H. Bowcock, Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced Richard and Mildred Loving each to a year in jail for violating the commonwealth’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. She was of African American and Native American descent. He was white. Nine years later, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down Virginia’s law.

On Thursday evening, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. the VHS will show the documentary, The Loving Story. The film documents the Loving’s marriage and the legal battle that followed.  It is part of  the Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle film series, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities.The Loving Story

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


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