Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Edmonia Carter Powers Barksdale, 1847-1918
By Leila Christenbury for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a publication of the Library of Virginia. Reprinted with permission.
Edmonia Carter Powers Barksdale(10 February 1847–30 March 1918), advocate for working women and woman suffrage activist, was likely born in Augusta County, Virginia, and was the daughter of Lelia Skipwith Harrison Powers and Zebulon Montgomery Pike Powers, who operated an academy for boys in Augusta and Halifax Counties while Edmonia was growing up. Little information is available about her childhood and education, but by 1870 she was teaching in her father's school in Staunton. After her mother's death in 1868 and her father's second marriage, she probably moved with him to Richmond, where he studied for the ministry, was ordained an Episcopal priest, and served as rector of Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church from 1874 until his death in 1897. In Richmond, on 5 October 1882, she married George Annesley Barksdale, a Confederate veteran, widower, treasurer of Gallego Mills Manufacturing Company, and after 1890 vice-consul in Richmond for Brazil and Uruguay. They had no children, but she was stepmother to his daughter by his first marriage.
By 1899 Barksdale was a member of the governing board of the Consumers' League of the City of Richmond and served as its president in 1902. She was active in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and in 1900 was elected to the Church Hill branch in Richmond. In 1908 she was secretary of a group of society women who came together to host a four-day fete to raise money for a local charitable organization to help poor residents in the city. One of Barksdale's primary concerns involved the plight of working women who had to support themselves and were largely unable to afford any sort of respite or vacation from work. In 1894 Barksdale, Richmond philanthropist Grace Evelyn Arents, and members of the Ladies' Guild at Saint Andrew's Church raised $1,000 to purchase property at Greenwood, in Albemarle County. There they organized Summer Rest, a country retreat for white, unmarried working women from the Richmond area to enjoy an affordable and healthful break from their labors. The connection of Barksdale and Arents was a natural one; both shared a concern for the poor, and Barksdale's father was rector of Saint Andrew's Church and her husband was a founder, vestryman, and treasurer of the church, which was also a major philanthropic interest of Arents.
On 30 April 1901 Barksdale and a group of women incorporated the Cooperative Workers of Richmond, Virginia, the administrative arm of Summer Rest. She was the founding president. Their stated purpose was "to establish and maintain . . . a country resort . . . for rest and recreation for women who work for their own support" and to facilitate land purchase, house construction, and supervision, including accommodations, meals, and daily activities, of the facility. It was a family affair; Barksdale's sister was both the secretary and one of the directors, and her stepdaughter also served as a director.
Open from the beginning of July to the beginning of October each year with a capacity of about sixty women, Summer Rest initially cost $2 a week for room and board, or $10.45 total for a two-week stay, which included transportation by train. By 1908 the board increased the cost to $2.50 a week and publicized rules that permitted admitting female relatives who were being supported as well as working women who were convalescing from illness. During the first ten years of Summer Rest's existence, more than six hundred women (including teachers and factory workers) took advantage of the facility.
Barksdale lived on-site during Summer Rest's open months, staying approximately half the year, and supervised meals and other activities. Her husband tended to the surrounding farm, which produced much of the food. While member associates helped fund Summer Rest through contributions, Barksdale and her husband regularly organized events to raise funds, such as a 1900 train trip to Washington, D.C. In fact, the couple's identification with Summer Rest was enduring. When Barksdale's husband died at Summer Rest on 19 November 1910, an obituary referred to the place as his country home. She continued to live there and supervise the retreat at least through 1913. After some controversy regarding records and finances, in 1914 the property was transferred to Henrico Parish of the Episcopal Church, although Barksdale continued to serve as vice president of Summer Rest until her death.
Barksdale also had a "personal, ardent, undying interest in the cause" of woman suffrage. She attended the founding meeting of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia in November 1909 and took over as chair of the membership committee in May 1910. She reported an increase from 20 to 200 members by the time of the annual meeting in December, when she was elected to the board of directors. In addition to speaking occasionally at league meetings, Barksdale opened her Richmond home for lectures, such as in March 1910 when she hosted a speaker on labor conditions in the state. She also belonged to the Richmond league and was one of the patrons for its performance of the suffrage play, How the Vote Was Won, at the Jefferson Hotel auditorium in February 1914. Later that year she was one of the city league's delegates to the state convention of the Equal Suffrage League.
Barksdale involved the women who benefited from their stays at Summer Rest and recruited some of them to join the league. From 1913 to 1915 she was president of the Equal Suffrage League of Greenwood, but her correspondence with state league president Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine and other officers indicates that the Greenwood chapter was not particularly large or successful, in part because of Barksdale's poor health. In February 1914, at age sixty-seven, Barksdale was the oldest of six suffragists who addressed the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the House of Delegates in favor of a suffrage amendment to the state constitution. She criticized President Woodrow Wilson for not endorsing votes for women. No text of her address survives, but newspaper reports indicated that she was very blunt in her advocacy. Two Richmond newspapers reported in identical language that Barksdale "said that after the war"—meaning the Civil War—"she had recommended the carrying of firearms by girls as a measure of self-protection in lawless times. The women of this day needed the ballot as the women of that day needed the bullet, she claimed, for their own protection."
Edmonia Carter Powers Barksdale died of cancer at home in Richmond on 30 March 1918, more than two years before women won the right to vote, and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
Birth and death dates on Death Certificate, Richmond City, Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS), Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia (LVA) and on gravestone in Hollywood Cemetery; Marriage Register, Richmond City, BVS; some letters (including second quotation in Barksdale to Lila Meade Valentine, 17 Sept. 1913) in Adèle Goodman Clark Papers, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; State Corporation Commission Charter Book 46:137–142 (first quotation on 138), LVA; Richmond Dispatch, 7 Sept. 1902; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 13 Feb. 1914 (third quotation); Richmond Evening Journal, 13 Feb. 1914; brief death notices in Richmond Evening Journal, Richmond News Leader, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, all 1 Apr. 1918.