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Rockbridge Historical Society researches a remarkable woman

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 4:16 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - At the Rockbridge Historical Society, in Lexington’s Campbell House, they’ve found a most remarkable woman.

“I think we know these people in life,” said Eric Wilson, the society’s Executive Director. “I think we know these people when we meet them. They have charisma, they’re thoughtful, they’re responsive, and they use all their social and intellectual skills in real kinds of civic commitment.”

Coralie Franklin Cook was born a slave in Lexington at the start of the Civil War, and rose to be a college professor and civil rights advocate in Washington, D.C.

“It’s pretty remarkable to have any woman of the era, coming through the era of the new woman, make that impact from from Lexington, much less a woman of color,” Wilson said.

She was a popular speaker and writer on subjects ranging from equal rights for African Americans to women’s suffrage.

“One of her most famous essays was called ‘Votes for Women,’” Wilson said. “It was published in 1917 by W.E.B. DeBois article -- I’m sorry, magazine for the NAACP. And it really argues for the crucial importance of women’s votes.”

And yet, today, she’s not as well known as her friend Susan B. Anthony, despite her amazing story, something historians like Wilson hope to change.

“When we find these people, and we can put them in relationship to the humbler circumstances where they came from and to the wider regional and national networks that they shape, these are ways to engage our curiosities about history and to know what’s possible and not just the achievements that have been happening,” he said.

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