Alexandria, Virginia just outside Washington, D.C., is nationally recognized for its rich history and beautifully preserved 18th– and 19th-century architecture, including many sites important to women’s history. In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’ve rounded up our top 5 ways to celebrate women’s history in Alexandria, from women’s history sites to female art studios and live performances. You can also celebrate Women’s History Month by supporting women-owned businesses in Alexandria, including nearly 90% of the shops in the Old Town Boutique District. Keep reading to learn more about the people and places in Alexandria who helped forge the way for women’s rights.
1. Explore Women’s History Sites
Image Credit: E. Michio for the City of Alexandria
Alexandria offers visitors a unique way to experience American history where it happened, including many sites and exhibits dedicated to women’s history. A good starting point is the city’s self-guided Alexandria Women’s History Tour, which covers over a dozen different sites in a one-and-a-half-mile loop. Many of Alexandria’s historic museums also weave women’s stories through their ongoing tours and exhibits. Alexandria’s Freedom House Museum features the stories of women like Harriet Jacobs, who was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina. Jacobs later became an author and an activist. Her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, an autobiographical novel, is one of the most important slave narratives written. In 1862, Jacobs came to Alexandria as a missionary for the contrabands (escaped slaves). A short walk from Freedom House is the Edmonson Sisters sculpture, a gorgeous tribute to sisters Mary and Emilia Edmonson who were born into slavery and attempted escape at the ages of 15 and 13 respectively. The sisters were captured and held in bondage at the Bruin’s “Negro Jail,” and purchased by their father. Visitors can use the self-guided tour “A Remarkable and Courageous Journey” to learn more about the Edmonson sisters on page 9. You can also view history through an artistic lens by visiting the Alexandria Black History Museum’s current and poignant exhibit Before the Spirits are Swept Away: African American Historic Site Paintings by Sherry Sanabria. The city will also host a series of celebrations throughout the month of March, including a “Feminine Side of Taverns” tour at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum on March 4, an Outlander-themed, Women’s History-focused “Geek Tour” at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum on March 11, two female-focused lectures from The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum on March 1 and 22 plus Women’s Civil War Day at Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site on March 24.
2. Dine at a Female-Owned or Inspired Restaurant
Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Vola’s Dockside Grill + Hi-Tide Lounge is named for Alexandria’s first female city manager and local Civil Rights leader Vola Lawson. The Washington Post wrote that Vola Lawson “helped stabilize the city’s finances while championing affordable housing, minority hiring and women’s rights.” Pay tribute to Vola Lawson and check out cool historical photos from the city’s history at Vola’s Dockside Grill, which features outdoor dining right on the Marina overlooking the Potomac River at 7 King Street and serves up fresh seafood. Some the best restaurants in Alexandria are owned by women, including two Old Town favorites Hank’s Pasta Bar and Hank’s Oyster Bar, owned by one of the D.C. region’s most highly recognized chefs, Jamie Leeds. Both restaurants offer mouthwatering menus inside stylish spaces, and Leeds even chose Hank’s Pasta Bar as her wedding venue to partner Tina McDaniel. Sisters Catherine and Margaret Portner own Portner Brewhouse, which opened in the Van Dorn neighborhood in 2017. The Portner sisters are honoring their great-great grandfather’s legacy 100 years later by brewing up historic family recipes from Alexandria’s Robert Portner Brewing Co., the largest pre-Prohibition brewery in the South. You can dine at even more female-owned restaurants throughout the city, including Cheesetique in Del Ray and Pizzeria Paradiso, Fontaine Caffe & Creperie and Meggrolls in Old Town.
3. Shop Small at Women-Owned Boutiques
Image Credit: Old Town Boutique District
Eighty-seven percent of the shops in the Old Town Boutique District (OTBD) are owned by women, and even more can be found in the city including Red Barn Mercantile and Penny Post, Encore Consignment Boutique, Imagine Artwear, Twist Boutique, TSALT, Gossypia and 3 Sisters. You can shop small as you support these independent, women-owned businesses and honor those who have grown and enriched Alexandria’s small business community. Learn more about these businesses and more on the Old Town Boutique District blog post from 2017.
4. Discover Local Female Artists
Pictured: Torpedo Factory founder Marian Van Landingham on the left Image Credit: Torpedo Factory Art Center
There are so many talented female artists to discover in Alexandria, it would take more than a month to explore them all. What better time to start than Women’s History Month? Begin at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a one-of-a-kind art center housing 82 working artist studios, including many female artists like Dawn Benedetto, Lisa Schumaier, Heasoon Rhee, Yoshiko Ratliff, SaaraLiisa Ylitalo and more. You’ll also find a solo show by painter Beverly Ryan in The Art League Gallery at the Torpedo Factory from March 7 through March 31, 2018. The campaign to create the Torpedo Factory Art Center was spearheaded by two women, Marian Van Landingham and Marge Alderson. At 105 N. Alfred Street in Old Town, St. George Art Gallery of African art was founded by designer Saba Alene, who pioneered Ethiopia’s art scene when she opened the first St. George gallery in Ethiopia in 1991—a truly revolutionary feat at the time. After two decades of international success, she expanded to a second location in Old Town Alexandria and now co-owns the gallery with her sister and fellow designer Selamawit Alene. The Athenaeum, Del Ray Artisans Gallery and Principle Gallery also feature a number of female artists and artwork.
5. Catch a Live Show from Female Performers
Image Credit: Sweet Honey in the Rock
Alexandria features a phenomenal female music and theater lineup during Women’s History Month, starting with internationally-renowned a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock at The Birchmere: America’s Legendary Music Hall on March 6, 2018. Sweet Honey in the Rock is a three-time Grammy Award-nominated group of African-American women that began in the 70’s just across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Their most recent album, #LoveInEvolution is filled with powerful songs and lyrics that blend hip hop, jazz and rhythm & blues with themes of love, civil rights, optimism and pride and is a can’t-miss for Women’s History Month. You can catch more female artists throughout Women’s History Month at The Birchmere, including Rachelle Ferrell (March 2 & 3), The Four Bitchin’ Babes (March 10), Avery*Sunshine (March 19), Lee Ann Womack (March 23), and Cris Williamson, Barbara Higbie, Teresa Trull (March 29). Theater fans don’t want to miss MetroStage’s spring solo series, celebrating work by women, about women, and starring women. From March 8 to March 25, 2018, MetroStage will feature “George…Don’t Do That!” a musical entertainment celebrating the wit and wisdom of one of Britain’s most beloved comediennes, Joyce Grenfell, as devised and performed by Catherine Flye.
For more on historic sites and attractions in Alexandria, click here.
Header Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria