Explore the Past - More VCU & VUU History

The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia / Ellen G. Kidd:

Ellen Kidd
Ellen Kidd, late-19th century (Library of Virginia)


Pin Money Pickles Factory
Pin Money Pickles Factory, c. 1920 (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


On Franklin Street near Harrison Street is a historical marker dedicated to the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, which was founded on that site in 1909 with the goal of achieving voting rights for women.  The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law in 1920, although opposition from groups such as the Virginia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (1913), whose members included Sallie Mae Dooley of Maymont and Sally Finch Valentine, the wife of Mann S. Valentine III, contributed to the Virginia General Assembly's refusal to ratify the amendment until 1952.  One of the members of the Equal Suffrage League was Ellen G. Kidd (1852-1932), who began selling homemade pickles in 1868 and ended up shipping gherkins to individuals and businesses all over the United States and Europe. Her company, Pin Money Pickles, operated at 1500 W. Marshall St. from 1910 until its closure in 1950. Although the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia disbanded in 1920, many members, including Kidd, then founded the Virginia League of Women Voters, which continues today to encourage the involvement of women in politics.  (919 W. Franklin St., 0.3 miles.)


Monroe Park:

Monroe Park
Monroe Park, 2019 (Photo by Tre Rockenbach)


A short walk away, in the area bounded by Franklin, Belvidere, Main and Laurel streets, is Richmond’s oldest park, which was established in 1851 and named after President James Monroe.  Before the Civil War, the area housed the State Agricultural Fair Grounds, and during the war, it was used as a military camp and hospital. Today, the 7.5-acre Monroe Park includes paths laid out in a star pattern, a central fountain (1906), statues of several local figures, and a monument to Richmond’s WWII dead.  Checkers House, a former comfort station and maintenance office, contains a café and a satellite police station. The Neo-Islamic building facing Monroe Park at the corner of Main and Laurel streets is the Altria Theater, Richmond’s largest performing arts center. Built in 1927 as a local entertainment venue and Shriner facility, the structure was called “The Mosque” due to its distinctive Moorish architectural style.  The city of Richmond purchased the building from the Shriners in 1940. Also facing the park further north on Laurel Street is the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (1905), which serves as the seat of the Catholic diocese of Richmond. (Center of Monroe Park, 0.4 miles.)

VCU Institute for Contemporary Art:

VCU Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019 (Photo by Tre Rockenbach)


Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway Station
Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway Station, 1907 (The Valentine)


In 2018, a silver multi-angled, multi-level building appeared on the corner of Belvidere and Broad streets, declaring in pink neon cursive letters running along one side, “You belong here.”  The structure, a LEED Gold-certified building designed by Steven Holl Architects and known as the Markel Center, houses the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). This free museum has no permanent art collection, instead presenting ever-rotating exhibitions, performances, films and special programs throughout the year.  The ICA is open Tuesdays through Sundays and includes a shop and café. On the north side of Broad Street between the VCU-VUU GRTC Pulse Station and the ICA is the VCU School of the Arts Depot and Annex, a 1907 building once used as a Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway station connecting Richmond to Ashland, then occupied by the Richmond Glass Co. (1938-2010), and later purchased by VCU and opened in 2014 as gallery, programming, classroom and studio space.  (ICA, 601 W. Broad St., 0.3 miles. VCU School of the Arts Depot and Annex, 814-816 W. Broad St., 0.1 mile.)

Virginia Union University:

Belgian Building at Virginia Union University
Belgian Building at Virginia Union University, 2003 (The Valentine, Maurice Duke Collection)


About a mile north of this GRTC Pulse station, on Lombardy Street, is Virginia Union University (VUU), a historically black university whose origins go back to one of Richmond’s most notorious slave markets, Robert Lumpkin’s Slave Jail at 15th and Franklin streets.  In 1867, Lumpkin’s African-American widow Mary Ann rented the property to Nathaniel Colver, a member of the American Baptist Home Mission Society who wished to start a school for the formerly enslaved. Colver’s school caused the Lumpkin’s property, formerly known as “The Devil’s Half Acre,” to be re-nicknamed “God’s Half Acre.”  In 1870, the school moved into a former hotel at 19th and Main streets. By 1886, the school had become the Richmond Theological Seminary (RTS) and was a center for the religious training of black Baptist ministers throughout the South. In 1889, the RTS merged with Wayland Seminary, a similar school in Washington, D.C., to create VUU, and moved to its current location – a former sheep pasture known as “Sheep Hill” on Lombardy Street.  Today, VUU enrolls approximately 1,600 students. One of VUU’s most prominent landmarks is the Belgian Friendship Building, originally part of the Belgian pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which features stone relief carvings of life in what was then the Belgian Congo. The building’s 161-foot-tall Vann Memorial Tower contains a carillon and is prominently lit at night. (Belgian Friendship Building, 1500 N. Lombardy St., 0.8 miles.)


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