A Study in “Well-Behaved Women”

“Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History” – I have seen this quote attributed to a number of great female role models, most notably Eleanor Roosevelt. However, the famous first-lady never said this. Instead, these oft-quoted words were first written down by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in an article about Puritan funeral services.


Now, I will admit, that as a historian, I have read Ulrich’s work before, but for the most part, the public hasn’t. Also, unlike the way the phrase is used today to imply that women must “misbehave” in order to make history, Ulrich instead first meant the words to lament the fact that many of the important stories of “well-behaved” women are overlooked in favor of the not so well-behaved.

It has been the effort of future women’s history enthusiasts to encourage the study of all women, both well-behaved and otherwise.

March is Women’s History Month. Begun as Women’s History Week in California during the week of March 8, 1978, the movement gained interest throughout the country. In 1987, Congress declared March “National Women’s History Month.” Since then, events held during the month of March have brought focus on the achievements of women in American History.

For this Women’s History Month, I am honored to be a part of an exhibit that will showcase the lives of 10 Eastern Shore Women (both well-behaved and not so well-behaved) during the events of the Civil War. What began as interesting stories during the course of Kellee Blake’s research as she wrote her book on the Civil War events on the Eastern Shore, has evolved into a multi-program event, which kicks off with a exhibit opening at Ker Place entitled Stronger than Steel:

On the eve of the Civil War, ten women on Virginia’s Eastern Shore lived different lives. They were Shorewomen whose stories endure through documents and artifacts. Their journeys over the course of four life-changing years, reveal a level of determination, faith and resolve that proved Stronger than Steel.

The lives of these women were pieced together through diaries, newspapers, and federal documents that were saved by both private families and public archives. From a battle of letters between a school teacher and General Benjamin Butler, to the worried writings of a seventeen-year-old girl, Stronger than Steel is sure to showcase and bring to light these women’s achievements. If nothing else, Stronger than Steel proves that while it may be that “well-behaved women seldom make history” their stories are still there, waiting to be found and made a part of history.

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Stronger than Steel is a multi-program event, featuring an exhibit, lectures and performance:

Stronger than Steel Exhibit Opening Reception

March 4th, 2016. 5-7pm, Ker Place, Onancock

Lunch and Lecture with Kellee Blake:

“The Fight of their Lives:  Finding the Stories of Civil War Women”

April 8th, 2016. 11am-1pm, Ker Place, Onancock.

Evening Panel Discussion

“The End of an Era: Top 10 Moments in the Civil War on the Eastern Shore”

April 22, 2016. 6pm, Onancock Baptist Church, Onancock.

Live Performance

Stronger than Steel: Civil War Voices of Eastern Shore Women

May 20-21, 2016, North Street Playhouse.
Stronger than Steel is open March-June 2016. Please visit www.shorehistory.org or like us on Facebook for more information.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society would like to thank Chesapeake Outdoor and the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities for sponsoring the event.



New @ Ker Place: 2015 Recent Acquisitions

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In 2015, the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society accepted over 100 new artifacts into our collection. Comprising of objects, documents, and photographs, the collections helps place the Eastern Shore of Virginia within the broader global context. Donations of artifacts relating to Shore businesses, lands, and history all help tell the unique story of the Eastern Shore. Here are just a few highlights of what was collected in 2015:


  • Born in August of 1898, Allen Ray Watson grew up on the Eastern Shore. In May of 2017, he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard. Called into active duty in July of that same year, Watson was shipped to the front lines of World War I in Europe. He was killed in action on October 15, 1918. His nephew donated several artifacts relating to Corporal Allen Ray Watson, including a picture of his entire unit, a framed certificate from France in memory of Watson’s “death for liberty,” as well as a digitized book detailing Allen Watson’s life from photographs to transcripts of the letters he sent to his brother Wilkes.
  • temperancevilleadjusted.jpgA Jacket, Pennant and booklet were donations relating to Temperanceville School which was host to a high school, elementary school and primary school during its long existence. It’s earliest students arrived by horse drawn vehicles or boarded in town. Temperanceville School closed it’s doors to students in 1978.


  • Photographer Mary Lincoln Hunt was contacted by the Library of Congress to complete a photo tour of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, recording life and homes up and down the shore. Using a browning camera, she took pictures of historic houses and other aspects of life along the shore, writing details about the houses and people on the back of the photographs. Her young daughter, Alice Lincoln Hunt, went along to document the Eastern Shore, and therefore shows up in many of the photographs. These photographs were used for a 1929 Library of Congress Project that showed life in 1920s America.


We are grateful to all the donations made this year to our collections, and look forward to preserving and displaying them for visitors, researchers, and future Eastern Shore generations.


Waves of Black and White: Exploring the New Photography Exhibit at Ker Place

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     Dr. John W. Robertson was an active photographer from the 1930s to the 1970s, taking pictures of anyone and everything on the Eastern Shore. In 1996, Miriam Riggs Ennis rediscovered an entire collection of Dr. Robertson’s photographs for purchase at a garage sale. Feeling that not only should these pictures be kept together, but also be well taken care of, she organized and donated them to the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society. There are nearly 5,000 photographs total, and though they have been loosely divided into sections and briefly described, they had never been digitally scanned. Until now.

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     Over the course of three scanning sessions and after about 50 hours of research, the Maritime Committee at Ker Place went through all of the maritime photos, scanning the best copies. Then, with the assistance of the ESVHS staff, they picked out the best 24 to showcase as part of the Ker Art and Maritime Exhibit festival. The exhibit, …On the Water: Through the Lens of Dr. John W. Robertson focuses on these photographs that reveal the beauty and culture of the Eastern shore. Dr. Robertson demonstrates that you didn’t need color to showcase the wonderful uniqueness that is the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

     Additionally, the staff is asking the Eastern Shore community for help identifying the people in Dr. Robertson’s collection. A collage of 19 photographs is available in the visitor center for guests to view. Know someone in a photograph? Please let is know by writing it on a sticky note and leaving on the picture. Or contact the docent on duty with comments or questions.


     …On the Water: Through the Lens of Dr. John W. Robertson is truly a “shore made” exhibit. Come view this collection at Ker Place, open to the public till December 2015.

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     Find a favorite photo? Order a print to keep it forever! Unmatted prints are for sale by order and will be ready for a Christmas time delivery. Matted Prints are also for sale and available for immediate pick up. Please visit Ker Place or call 757-787-8012 for details. All proceeds will benefit in the preservation of the Dr. Robertson photograph collection.

Making the List!

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     The Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society is excited to announce that the Griffith Family sampler got on to the Virginia Association of Museum’s Top 10 Endangered artifact list! Thank you everyone for voting. See the official announcement here: VAM Top 10 Endangered Artifacts

      GriffithSamplerFrontNow starts the drive to raise the funds to conserve the piece. The Top 10 list gets our piece and the society in the eyes of the Virginia public, now is the time to conserve the sampler to keep it in good shape for public viewing. Currently the piece has been put away into storage until it can be looked at by a textiles expert.GriffithSampler Closeup

     Please consider donating to the Annual Fund to help us conserve this piece so it can be enjoyed by all who visit Ker Place. The Griffith Family register is a unique piece in the history of the Eastern Shore, and we should preserve it for future generations.

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The Annual Fund runs from September 1 through the end of December 2015. Your tax deductible donation will not only help us conserve this important piece, but will also assist us in preserving all of Eastern Shore History.

Please contact: executivedirector@shorehistory.org for more details on giving to our annual fund. Or Donate Here! 

Contact collections@shorehistory.org for more information on the Griffith Family Sampler or to schedule an appointment to view it.

Thanks again to all who voted, this is an exciting opportunity for the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society!

Stitching Our Way To The Top Ten

The Historical Society has a chance to get one of our artifacts onto the Virginia Association of Museum’s Top Ten Endangered Artifact list.

How, you ask?

The story begins when I (The ESVHS Collections Manager) started at Ker Place this past May. Like every visitor, I began by taking a tour of Ker Place, butSamplerUpClose unlike most guests, I viewed the building and artifacts from a curator’s perspective, getting a feel for all of the objects, portraits, and furnishings in the rooms. As I walked into the silver room, I viewed all of the portraits and framed artifacts on the walls and I noticed that on one of the walls was a framed sampler. I was struck by how beautiful and unique this sampler was. Stitched with a variety of embroidery techniques, it also included a family register, rather than the bible verse or poem that was more common for the time period.

TGriffithSampler Closeuphe sampler was completed in 1844 by Elizabeth Griffith. It was found in a farmhouse near Capeville, VA by a couple in 1987. The couple, in turn, donated it to the Historical Society in 2013. It was hung in the Silver Room as a compliment to the Ker Family Sampler already hanging in there. My eye was drawn to the french knots Elizabeth Griffith used to create grass, the small vine and stem stitches that formed the willow tree, and the patience it must have taken to stitch the satin stitches in the flower petals.

From the early 17th to the late 19th century, young girls between the ages of 10 and 14 demonstrated their skill with a needle by creating samplers, some as simple as a short poem and their names, others as elaborate to include flowers, trees, and multiple embroidery techniques. With several flower and tree motifs and a variety of stitches, Elizabeth Griffith certainly showed off her skill!

VAM-Top10_RGBWithin the next few weeks, I received an email from the Program Assistant at the Virginia Association of Museums asking for us to nominate one of our artifacts for their Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program. I remembered this embroidered piece and thought it would be a wonderful nomination. This program would bring attention to not only this piece, but to our collection as a whole.

The nomination was accepted and the piece is now up for public voting. This is where we need your help!

Please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2015VATop10, and scroll down to the Needlepoint Sampler/Griffith Family Register and click “YES!” Don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Submit My Vote” so your vote counts in the tally. Voting ends August 23, so vote as often as you can!

Juggling Genealogy: Re-Organizing Family Records and Resources Along the Eastern Shore

Ker Place Genealogy It has been a whirlwind summer so far as the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society’s Collections Manager. Daily tasks have varied, but one project I have been working on is inventorying and re-organizing the Genealogy section of our Library collection.


This excellent resource for researchers and genealogists has been updated to include recent additions. Books are shelved alphabetically by family last name as listed on the family record. Underneath the printed and published genealogies are books and periodicals of resources, such as lists of marriage licence bonds in both Accomack and Northampton Counties as well as other nearby Virginia Counties. Other exciting resources include Will and Administration Records, 1850 and 1860 Census records, and records of soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War from both Eastern Shore counties.

Work continues in other sections of the Library and Archives to organize and inventory documents and books. By the end, our archives and library will be searchable in our database, making research family history and other subjects about the Eastern Shore faster and easier.

PicMonkey Collage3 Do you have evidence of family history along the Eastern Shore of Virginia? Come visit our the Genealogical Library at Ker Place, 69 Market Street, Onancock, VA or contact me, Stephanie Templin at collections@shorehistory.org for questions or research requests.