Virginia Estelle Randolph

Virginia Estelle Randolph (1870–1958)

Virginia Estelle Randolph, born of formerly enslaved parents in Richmond, was a pioneering educator, community health advocate, organizational leader, and humanitarian. Educated within the public schools of Richmond, Randolph embarked on a career in education that spanned nearly sixty years. She reportedly began her teaching career in Goochland County in or around 1890 and retired as supervisor of black schools in Henrico County in 1949. Her 1894 appointment as teacher of a one-room school for black children in Henrico County proved pivotal in her development of innovative approaches to integrating industrial arts into the academic curriculum. Her commitment to her community and education galvanized interracial cooperation in broadening access to educational opportunities and healthcare well beyond her region. Her efforts culminated in her selection as the first countywide Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher in the South in 1908. In this role, she traveled weekly to each of the black schools in Henrico County to train teachers and build community support. She also trained educators throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. The Virginia E. Randolph Training School was built and named in her honor in 1915. In 1926, Randolph received the William E. Harmon Award for Distinguished Achievement in the field of education. She garnered international acclaim as her methods grew to be used throughout rural areas of the entire American South and the British colonies in Africa. She died in 1958. MORE...

 

Early Years and Family

Virginia Randolph was born in Richmond in May 1870 to Nelson Edward Randolph, a bricklayer and Richmond native, and Sarah Carter Randolph, a domestic worker and native of Campbell County. Her parents, both formerly enslaved, raised four daughters: Mary, Virginia, Sarah, and Emma. Although Randolph's birth date is commonly given as June 8, 1874, the birth register for the Bureau of Vital Statistics for the City of Richmond reveals that her actual birth was in May 1870. This earlier birth year is also supported by the Freedman's Bank account entry for Nelson Randolph, wherein he reports having two daughters, Mary and Virginia, in 1871. According to Randolph, her family suffered a major loss when her father died in 1874. Her youngest sister, Emma, was just one month old at the time. Her mother taught her daughters to knit and crochet and the importance of cleanliness.

Randolph attended Baker School, the first public school built for black students in Richmond, after the formation of the statewide public school system in 1870. She furthered her education at Richmond Colored Normal School, a noted secondary school founded in 1867 under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau and Ralza M. Manly, who served as the leader of the educational component of the Freedmen's Bureau in Virginia for most of its tenure. The school's rigorous curriculum included physical geography, botany, civil government, physiology, and map drawing. It had a normal, or teacher preparation, component and a model school. Among its many notable graduates were James Hugo Johnston Sr., Rosa L. Dixon Bowser, Sarah Garland Boyd Jones, John Mitchell Jr., Maggie Lena Walker, and Wendell P. Dabney. Randolph's attendance at the school ended prior to her graduation.

After Randolph's father died, her mother remarried twice, according to census records. Her first stepfather was carpenter Joseph Anderson, and the second was Joseph Minor, a laborer. By 1890 the family lived at 813 West Moore Street, directly across from her family's church, the Moore Street Missionary Baptist Church. Organized in 1875, the church had the Moore Street Industrial School on its grounds by 1879. This school was created to teach black children the manual arts such as sewing, carpentry, and printmaking, in addition to offering academic courses. Randolph's exposure to this school in her youth, coupled with the handiwork taught by her mother, most assuredly influenced her philosophy during her career as an industrial arts educator. Randolph remained a faithful member of the church until her death.

Educator and Innovator

Randolph reportedly began her teaching career in Goochland County in or about 1890. By 1893, she was teaching in Hanover County, and she was elected to teach at the one-room Mountain Road School in Henrico County in 1894. The school, located on a red clay hill, was in disrepair. Undeterred, Randolph set out to beautify the school and its surroundings by whitewashing the building, planting flowers, and purchasing gravel with funds from her own meager salary. Randolph traveled to homes throughout the county to recruit students and enlist the assistance of parents. She worked to instill the importance of both cleanliness and learning to use one's mind and hands. Randolph also organized Willing Worker Clubs and school improvement leagues to encourage communities to support their schools. These coalitions fostered a sense of pride, self-help, and collectivism, and raised money that could be funneled to assist schools. Although some parents resented her teaching the manual arts along with the usual subject matter, Randolph remained resolute in her belief that these lifelong skills needed to be introduced to students at the elementary level because of limited opportunities for black students to acquire a secondary education.

Randolph truly believed in educating the spirit, hands, mind, and heart. She organized afternoon Sunday school services at the school and enlisted the services of her pastor, the Reverend R. O. Johnson, as well as students and faculty from Virginia Union University. Her extraordinary efforts did not go unnoticed by some of the most influential and progressive white citizens in the area and the state. The Stewart and Bryan families liberally supported her efforts. Jackson Davis's 1905 appointment as supervisor of Henrico County Schools proved fortuitous in amplifying the awareness of her methods and the interracial cooperation shown in elevating educational opportunities for young black people.

Northern and southern supporters of the Hampton Institute's and Tuskegee Institute's models of integrating manual arts with academic coursework began to seek ways to expand these models into rural communities throughout the South. These historically black colleges provided extension agents who worked to educate nearby communities. Davis, who was acquainted with Hollis B. Frissell, principal of Hampton Institute, began to contemplate how he could perhaps utilize these same methods throughout Henrico County. In 1907, Quaker philanthropist Anna T. Jeanes, who had given generously to both Hampton and Tuskegee, decided to donate one million dollars to be used specifically to support black rural schools throughout the South. The fund came to be known as the Negro Rural School Fund, Inc. In 1908, Davis applied to J. H. Dillard, president and director of the fund, for assistance in paying the salary of a supervising industrial teacher who would travel to each of the black schools in Henrico County. Having firsthand knowledge of Randolph's extraordinary success, he nominated her for the position, and in October 1908 she became the first countywide Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher in the South.

Henrico County had more than twenty black schools; Randolph traveled to each one weekly and assisted teachers in creating senior and junior clubs in each community to support the schools. The summary report of Randolph's work after her first year was favorably reviewed, and her efforts became known as the Henrico Plan. Dillard made a thousand copies of it and sent them to supervisors throughout the South.

Randolph's travels and sphere of influence were not limited to Henrico County. As the first countywide Jeanes teacher, she was required to travel throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia to train other educators and assist in organizing school improvement leagues. By 1910, Randolph was determined to raise the funds necessary to build an industrial arts high school in her county. After raising the money via private subscriptions and events, she purchased property, which was deeded over to the Henrico County School Board. Although her attempt at the first secondary training school for black students in the county did not have sustained success, in 1915 the Virginia E. Randolph Training School was named in her honor on the grounds of her old one-room school.

Social Uplift, Community Health Advocacy, and Organizational Leadership

Much like her contemporaries Rosa L. Dixon Bowser, Janie Porter Barrett, and Maggie Lena Walker, Randolph was deeply involved in social welfare initiatives, juvenile justice reform, and community health. Although she did not marry or have biological children, she raised many children as her own. It was previously believed that she primarily boarded children who traveled from other states or locales to attend her school; recent research, however, reveals that she took in youngsters whose parents could not care for them or who were referred to her by the justice system. Working closely with the Richmond courts, Randolph took children in and boarded more than fifty foster children in her home over her lifetime, according to family sources. Of all the children who boarded with her, only Carrie B. Sample was officially adopted, according to Randolph's obituary.

Along with Bowser, Walker, and others, Randolph worked in tandem with organizations that sought to foster protection and rehabilitation for juveniles who had run afoul of the law. One organization integral in this endeavor was the Virginia Industrial School for Wayward Colored Girls in Hanover County. Founded by Janie Porter Barrett and the Virginia Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, this institution provided instruction in domestic sciences, the manual arts, and farming. Randolph was appointed to the board of this state-run institution after the death of Maggie L. Walker.

Randolph was a founding member of the Negro Organization Society, founded by Robert. R. Moton and others at Hampton Institute in 1912, and was appointed to its executive committee in 1934. This umbrella organization sought to uplift the living conditions of black people around the state. Its motto, "Better Schools, Better Health, Better Homes, and Better Farms," describes its major initiatives in public health and continuing education for black educators and farmers. In 1917, Randolph became a founding member of the Colored Branch of the Red Cross, an affiliate of the whites-only Richmond chapter of the organization. She was appointed chairman of the committee in charge of food supplies. Randolph was also instrumental in securing the appointment of a black visiting public health nurse in Henrico County during this period.

The Negro Organization Society worked closely with the Virginia State Teachers Association (VSTA), the largest black professional organization in the commonwealth during this period. VSTA's initiatives included equalization in pay as well as expanding public health coverage for rural and urban areas around the state. Randolph served as VSTA vice president for several years.

Later Years and Legacy

Randolph received major awards that fostered national recognition of her achievements. Nominated by Mary-Cook Branch Munford, a noted white leader in the Cooperative Education Association and the State Board of Education, Randolph received the first William E. Harmon Award for Distinguished Achievement in the field of education. This honor came with a $400 cash award and a gold medal. In 1937, Jeanes teachers throughout the South raised thousands of dollars to establish the Virginia Randolph Fund to both honor her and support rural education initiatives. This fund was administered by the Southern Education Association. In 1938, Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) awarded her a Certificate of Meritorious Service for her contributions to education.

Randolph retired in 1949 as the supervisor of black schools in Henrico County. A bust of her, commissioned by the Virginia Randolph Foundation, Inc., was unveiled in 1954. It is currently housed in the Museum in Memory of Virginia E. Randolph, which was founded in 1970 on the grounds of the Virginia Randolph Education Center. It became a Virginia Historic Landmark in 1975 and a National Historic Landmark in 1974. Randolph died on March 16, 1958, of cardiovascular disease. She is buried on the grounds of the Virginia Randolph Education Center.

In 1933, in assessing the impact of her contributions to education, Samuel Chiles Mitchell, a professor at Richmond College (now the University of Richmond), stated, "Her work ranks with that of Booker T. Washington. It has lacked the spectacular element that attaches to the great principal of Tuskegee; but in significance it surpasses, in some ways, even his achievements. Virginia Randolph has done the common thing in an uncommon way."

Time Line

  • May 1870 - Virginia Estelle Randolph is born in Richmond to Nelson Edward Randolph and Sarah Carter Randolph.
  • 1874 - Nelson Edward Randolph dies. He is survived by his wife, Sarah Carter Randolph, and four daughters: Mary, Virginia, Sarah, and Emma.
  • ca. 1890 - Virginia Randolph begins her teaching career in Goochland County.
  • 1893 - By this time, Virginia Randolph is teaching in Hanover County.
  • 1894 - Virginia Randolph is elected to teach at the one-room Mountain Road School in Henrico County.
  • October 1908 - Virginia Randolph becomes the first countywide Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher in the South, assisting teachers weekly at more than twenty black schools in Henrico County.
  • 1910 - By this year, Virginia Randolph is raising funds to build an industrial arts high school in Henrico County.
  • 1912 - Robert R. Moton and others found the Negro Organization Society, a grassroots advocacy association stressing community self-improvement for African Americans in Virginia during the Jim Crow era, at Hampton Institute.
  • 1915 - The Virginia E. Randolph Training School, named to honor educator Virginia Randolph, is established on the former grounds of the Mountain Road School in Henrico County. The Mountain Road School building was still present on the grounds when the Virginia E. Randolph Training School was built.
  • 1917 - The Colored Branch of the Red Cross, an affiliate of the whites-only Richmond chapter of the Red Cross, is founded by Virginia Randolph and others.
  • 1926 - Virginia Randolph receives the first William E. Harmon Award for Distinguished Achievement in the field of education.
  • 1934 - Virginia Randolph is appointed to the executive committee of the Negro Organization Society.
  • 1937 - Jeanes teachers throughout the South raise money to establish the Virginia Randolph Fund to support rural education initiatives. The fund is administered by the Southern Education Association.
  • 1938 - Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) awards Virginia Randolph a Certificate of Meritorious Service for her contributions to education.
  • 1949 - Virginia Randolph retires as the supervisor of black schools in Henrico County.
  • March 16, 1958 - Virginia Randolph dies of cardiovascular disease.
  • 1970 - The Virginia Randolph Home Economics Cottage, built on the grounds of the Virginia E. Randolph Training School in 1937, becomes the Museum in Memory of Virginia E. Randolph.
  • 1974 - The Museum in Memory of Virginia E. Randolph is recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
  • 1975 - The Museum in Memory of Virginia E. Randolph is recognized as a Virginia Historic Landmark.
  • October 14, 2019 - Statues of Anne Burras Laydon, Adele Clark, Cockacoeske, Mary Draper Ingles, Elizabeth Keckly, Laura Copenhaver, and Virginia Randolph are unveiled as part of the Virginia Women's Monument in Richmond.

References

Further Reading
Belsches, Elvatrice Parker. "Virginia Estelle Randolph." In the African American National Biography, Supplement 2008–2012, Volume 2, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, 210–213. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Davis, Jackson. The Jeanes Visiting Teachers: An Address Given at the Inter-Territorial Jeanes Conference, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, May 27, 1935. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1936.
Dillard, James H. "Fourteen Years of the Jeanes Fund." South Atlantic Quarterly 22, no. 3 (1923): 193–200.
Richardson, Archie G. The Development of Negro Education in Virginia 1831–1970. Richmond: Richmond Virginia Chapter, Phi Delta Kappa, 1976.
Wright, Arthur D. The Negro Rural School Fund, Inc. (Anna T. Jeanes Foundation), 1907–1933. Washington, D.C.: The Negro rural school fund, inc., 1933.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Belsches, E. P. Virginia Estelle Randolph (1870–1958). (2019, October 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Randolph_Virginia_Estelle_1870-1958.

  • MLA Citation:

    Belsches, Elvatrice Parker. "Virginia Estelle Randolph (1870–1958)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 12 Oct. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: October 10, 2019 | Last modified: October 12, 2019


Contributed by Elvatrice Parker Belsches, a Richmond area public historian, researcher, author, and filmmaker who specializes in chronicling the black experience in history.