March is women’s history month. We’re celebrating by shining the light on five famous women with connections to the Shenandoah Valley and the Front Royal area. Curious about our local women’s history? Read on to meet five women whose stories will make the Front Royal area come alive. Along with each woman, we’ve given a suggestion for a local outing you can take to honor her legacy and learn more about her.
Front Royal’s Civil War Spy: Belle Boyd (1844-1900)
Belle Boyd was a spy for the confederates during the Civil War. During the Battle of Front Royal, she was staying with relatives in the town of Front Royal. She overheard Union soldiers discussing their plans to withdraw from the town, destroying strategic bridges behind them. When she was unable to find a man willing to bring the intelligence to Stonewall Jackson, she made the perilous journey through the army lines herself. On the basis of Boyd’s information, Jackson advanced, and saved the bridges from destruction.
Today in Front Royal, you can still visit the building where Boyd was staying we she overheard the plans of the Union soldiers. The “Belle Boyd Cottage” is one of the oldest buildings on Front Royal. Call today to schedule your free, self-guided tours.
Staunton’s Suffragette: Fannie Stratton Bayly King (1864-1951)
In the early 1900s, the movement to give women the vote was alive and well in the Shenandoah Valley. Fannie King was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in Staunton, around an hour and a half drive down the valley from Front Royal. She organized the distribution of pamphlets, arranged for public debates, and corresponded with lawmakers, all in the cause of winning the vote for women. King even lectured publicly herself on several occasions . . . leading to some raised eyebrows, as public speaking was considered improper for women at the time.
In addition to her work in the women’s suffrage movement, King was active in improving her local community. She gained recognition for her work with Staunton’s Community Welfare League, dedicated to helping the poor and caring for neglected children. In 1940, King gave her own house over to the use of the Staunton Public Library.
If you’d like to walk in this amazing woman’s footsteps, consider making a day trip to Staunton. You can enjoy a lovely drive down the valley, followed by a relaxing day in this quaint, historic town. The Staunton Public Library has now outgrown Fannie King’s house, but if you visit the library in its new location, you can still see her portrait prominently displayed.
The Shenandoah Valley’s Inspirational Artist: “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961)
If you’re thinking you’ve reached a time in life when it’s too late to learn a new skill, spending some time with Grandma Moses will make you think again! Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses took up painting at the ripe age of 78. She is famous for her paintings of everyday farm life, set in New York and Virginia. Her work gained great popularity, and she continued to paint until a few months before her death at the age of 101.
Grandma Moses spent much of her life in the Shenandoah Valley. Even though she lived in New York when she took up painting, the Shenandoah Valley remained one of her favorite painting subjects. Visit Winchester’s Museum of the Shenandoah Valley to see some of Grandma Moses’s work in person.
This woman also made history later in life and is also affectionately called “Grandma” by her many fans. Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the entire 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail solo. She performed this feat in 1955, at the age of 68. Before her death, she made Appalachian Trail history again when she became the first person ever to thru-hike the trial three times.
Grandma Gatewood is credited with inspiring major improvements to the Appalachian Trail. As her record-breaking journey drew media attention, her loudly voiced complaints about the condition of the Appalachian Trail led to significant work on the trail.
The Appalachian Trail’s Grandma Pioneer: Emma Gatewood (1887-1973)
You may not be ready for the full 2,200 miles, but it’s easy to celebrate Grandma Gatewood’s legacy in the Front Royal area by hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail yourself. One option is to head to the Shenandoah National Park, which contains 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. See here for a list of popular hikes in the park that include stretches of the trail. Or head south on 522 just four miles from Front Royal and you’ll arrive at the Front Royal Junction Appalachian Trail crossing.
Front Royal’s Advocate for the Appalachian Trail: Sonja Carlborg
Speaking of the Appalachian Trail, did you know that Front Royal was one of the first towns to be designated an official Appalachian Trail Community? Our town won this designation in 2012, thanks in large part to the work of Sonja Carlborg. Sonja first came across the town of Front Royal while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail herself in 2000! Now a local resident, she was the founding chair of the Front Royal/ Warren County Appalachian Trail Community program.
Sonja works to make Front Royal a welcoming and helpful stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. With the town’s proximity to the trail, it makes sense that hikers would want to take a break here For just 50 cents, they can ride the Front Royal Trolley into town, where they can stock up on provisions, gear, and take a break for a night or even a few days. Celebrate Sonja this month, by giving a friendly welcome to any weary hikers you see on the streets of Front Royal!
The Front Royal Area is rich in women’s history. This March, celebrate women’s history month by planning an outing that celebrates one of these important local women.
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