Women & Preservation: Concluding Thoughts


Part of a Series

Over the last few weeks at my day-job at Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, I’ve had the opportunity of doing historical research about the Civil War happenings at several locations which either are currently in the preservation process or may be in the near future. As I’ve compiled files of historical documentation and then taken the “book knowledge” to work on matching to the land itself, that quote by William Shakespeare from the play, The Tempest, has come to mind:

“The past is prologue.”

What happened to the land, to artifacts, or the events that prompted the writing of treasured letters and other documents is a story that can often stand alone. But what if these pieces of the past have a chance to have an afterward. Or what if that afterward is really just a prologue. It all depends on the perspective of the time, place, and storyteller.

To reach into ancient history, the famous pharaoh of Egypt—Tutankhamun—lived and died thousands of years ago. And yet, that’s to the exploration and archaeology of Howard Carter in the 1920’s, Tutankhamun’s life and death was a prologue for a tremendous discovery and historic moment in the 20th Century which went full circle by helping those historians of antiquities to better understand that ancient culture.

Now, a little closer to home and the usual historical topics for this blog with a battlefield tract that I can tell you about. On December 13, 1862, a Confederate artillery major took a lone Napoleon cannon into an advanced position and fired on the flank of unsuspecting Union infantry, quite possibly firing the first shots of that day in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He held the advanced position for at least an hour and got the commendation of several Confederate generals for his “gallantry” and courage. So the question begins: is the preservation of that advanced gun position occupied by Major John Pelham the afterword of his actions or are his actions there the prologue for a preservation story? If we’re telling a preservation story, it’s the prologue that launches into a tale of a local, grassroots organization, a willing-to-negotiate developer, preservation documents, fundraising for a marker cannon, high-schoolers planting trees and shrubs, and the visitors who come to explore and remember. Pelham’s Corner is preserved by Central Virginia Battlefields Trust and holds the stories of 1862 and pieces of the modern preservation movement successes.

Following the recorded interviews in this series with Mary Koik, Cindy Brochure, and Stephanie Huffman about different aspects of historic preservation, I realize that we are all writing prologues and chapters. Ladies who have been active in the last few decades of the battlefield preservation movement of the modern era crafted a prologue or blazed a trail that myself and other young women are following. I may be able to write chapters that will then be someone else’s prologue.

The past is the beginning of the future and there’s this ever-shifting crossroads called the present. As I’m wrapping up this series and my thoughts for 2021 Women’s History Month, I’m incredibly grateful for all the trailblazers of the preservation movement—women and men—who have worked in so many different ways to preserve land, items, papers, and other pieces of the past.

Whether you prefer to see preservation as the afterward, prologue, or the main feature, there is opportunity for us all to write the next section, and thankfully, women continue to be part of the team helping to hold the pen and write the story of preservation.

1 Response to Women & Preservation: Concluding Thoughts

  1. I very much enjoyed your series, Sarah. As someone who has worked in the historic preservation field for some many years that when I started it was barely a thing, it’s nice to see younger people, especially women, thriving in the field. Thank you for your thoughtful interviews. This was a great Women’s History Month celebration for ECW.

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