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

Robertson Collage 1

     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.

Robertson Collage 2

     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.

Price Chart

     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.