By Hunter Simms, Lynchburg Museum Volunteer
August 18, 1920, marked the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. In Virginia the Nineteenth Amendment was not ratified until 1952. However, the delayed passage did not inhibit women from voting in the 1920 presidential election between Republican candidate Warren Harding and Democratic candidate James Cox. Twelve women in Lynchburg paid poll taxes and registered to vote on the first day of eligibility. Three of them were African American: Lucy B. Stephens, Lugie Carter Buck Ferguson, and Virginia Marie Cabell Randolph.
Lugie Ferguson worked as a public school teacher at Jackson Street School. Outside of her work in the classroom, Mrs. Ferguson served as the treasurer for the local NAACP executive branch and was a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church. In retirement she was a hairdresser who came into women’s homes to perform her services. Ferguson passed away in 1988 at Westminster Canterbury of Lynchburg at the age of 98.
Virginia Cabell Randolph is known for her work in the Lynchburg Public School System, the development of the “Woman’s Community Club” in 1922, and the opening of the “Community House,” sometimes called “Lynchburg’s Hull House,” in 1933
For African American children and adults, the Community House on Eighth Street served as a sanctuary where practical skills, manners, and schooling were emphasized. Randolph served the community throughout her life and is remembered as an outstanding public servant. Mrs. Randolph passed away in 1962 at the age of 86.
Lugie Ferguson and Virginia Cabell Randolph were close friends. They lived side by side in the 800 block of Harrison Street, and both are buried at Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery in adjoining family plots.
Lucy J. Bolding Stephens was born a slave in Burkeville, Virginia, in 1856. She graduated from Hampton University and worked as an educator for her entire life. She was teacher and matron at Virginia Collegiate and Industrial Institute in Fairview Heights (site of modern-day Bass Elementary School), and later a supervisor of Campbell County public schools. She moved to New York City in the early 1920’s and died there in 1924. Mrs. Stephens is buried with her husband George in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York.
Despite the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, voter suppression and intimidation tactics, including poll taxes, the grandfather clause, and literacy tests, persisted in the South. Barriers that African American men and women faced to exercise their right to vote made the registration of Ferguson, Randolph, and Stephens to vote that much more significant. It wasn’t until 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law that fair voting practices and procedures were fully enacted. Stephens, Ferguson, and Randolph signify the actualization of American ideals; and through their participation in the process, they raised the bar for future generations.
Do you have any more information about these three pioneering women? Are you are a descendant of Ferguson, Randolph, or Stephens? Do you have any photographs of them or their families? If so, we want to know! Please contact the Lynchburg Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 455-6226.
Old City Cemetery, Virginia Marie Cabell Randolph,
Virginia Museum of History and Culture, “Virginia and Women’s Suffrage”,
Lynchburg Museum Archive Resources