The Truth About Women: Myth and Reality

From Cockacoaeske, a female chief of the Pamunkey tribe who worked to protect her people during the tumultuous days of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 to Katherine Johnson, whose careful mathematical calculations were instrumental in putting a man on the moon, women have played a major role in history. Throughout time, women have struggled and overcome much against a backdrop of shifting traditions, expectations, and beliefs about the capabilities of women. This exhibition reveals important stories of women’s profound impact on the world in their quest for power and opportunity.

Ordinary working women in Hampton, frequently overlooked by historians, have made crucial and remarkable achievements that have shaped and reshaped their time and their culture. The myth is that – at least before World War II – women lived in a secure domestic, inward world while men acted in public and dominated commerce and society. While this belief was widely accepted, the reality throughout history often has been quite different.

In this exhibition visitors will discover individuals and hear their stories that examine women loosening society’s restrictions by entering fields such as science, medicine, law, engineering, government, and business. “The Truth About Women” reveals how beliefs about women’s abilities and intellect and the opportunities allowed to females differed significantly based on race and economic class. Women faced criticism, discrimination, and much adversity but persevered and achieved much while growing even stronger. Chronicled are the difficult challenges able women encountered and overcame while making significant contributions have altered history.

“The Truth About Women” explores the way that women navigated social challenges to pursue their own interests, provide a living for themselves and their children, or to influence social change, and the individual and collective power they have exerted from the 16th century to the present.

Framed image of rural tavern scene
On Hampton’s waterfront, the Brough sisters kept the prominent King’s Arms Tavern in the 1750s, Ann Hawkins was proprietor of the nearby Bunch of Grapes for a decade after 1741, and a Mrs. Taylor and Anne Pattison operated similar local establishments during the same period.

This scene outside a tavern of the time depicts a woman – probably the tavern keeper – holding a pitcher and proffering a glass to the younger of two women in a cart. Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
image of woman looking up, carrying plans and slide rule, with huge machinery in the background
Kitty Joyner, an electrical engineer at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor to NASA, depicted at work near a wind tunnel on the Langley campus in 1952. The reality has been that women like Joyner have pursued, and have often achieved, important jobs in the public sphere. Courtesy of NASA.
Suffrage League women in car World war I ends in 1919 and Virginia women reactivate their push for voting rights. Members of the Virginia Equal Suffrage League travel to a meeting in Richmond supporting passage of the 19th Amendment. For the duration of the War women had suspended their push for voting rights as they mobilized behind the War effort.
image of people demonstrating for the Equal Rights Amendment Women protest passionately for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, in Richmond in the 1970s. A male policeman seems disengaged, in the midst of all the agitation. The Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, was championed later because gender discrimination persisted in many walks of life, despite the rights-giving Amendments passed during and after the Civil War. Courtesy of the Valentine Richmond History Center.