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American Evolution Series

Reforming Virginia and America: Women as Change Agents

When women in the United States were not allowed to vote, when poll taxes were used to discriminate, and when civil wrongs needed to be righted, individual women entered public life as agents of social change. 

These programs are in conjunction with AMERICAN EVOLUTION™ ( The Commonwealth of Virginia is inviting all Americans to commemorate the 400th anniversary of key historical events that took place in Virginia in 1619 that continue to influence America today. Featured events, programs, and legacy projects will inspire local, national and international engagement through the themes of democracy, diversity, and opportunity. 

Support provided by The Lighthouse: Center for Exploration & Discovery at Virginia Wesleyan University

Singing a Freedom Song: Voting Rights in A Minor
Constitution Day Program

Date: Thursday, September 20, 2018
Time: 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Location: Batten Student Center, Pearce Hospitality Suite
Speaker: Dr. Timothy G. O’Rourke, Provost and Vice President, Virginia Wesleyan University

Who can vote? At different times in American history, the right to vote has been restricted on account of race, age, gender, literacy, property, wealth (in the form of poll taxes), and length of residency. Even today with universal suffrage, questions remain regarding voter identification at polling places and the purging of registration rolls. The case of Virginia Minor, who argued to the Supreme Court in 1875 that the 14th Amendment gives women the right to vote, offers a window on the past, present, and future of the right to vote in America. Join us as Provost Timothy O’Rourke discusses “the fundamental political right” that is “preservative of all rights.” Dr. O’Rourke has testified before both U.S. House and Senate committees on voting rights and redistricting issues, and his expert testimony has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.

September 17th is recognized in the United States as Constitution & Citizenship Day to commemorate the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. Each year, Virginia Wesleyan University honors and celebrates the day by holding an educational program.

The American Civil Rights Movement and the Women Who Started It
Justine L. Nusbaum Lecture

Date: Thursday, October 25, 2018
Time: 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.  
Location: Boyd Dining Center
Speaker: Dr. Charles Marsh, Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Project on Lived Theology, University of Virginia

Dr. Charles Marsh discusses the religious beliefs behind the American civil rights movement, and highlights women who enacted these convictions. Reflecting on the witness of social reformers Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Gray Adams, and Jane Stembridge, Marsh shows how their determined leadership and organizing gives us insight in addressing challenges of today.

Justine L. Nusbaum resettled refugees from war-torn Europe and Asia. She worked with St. Mary’s Infant Home Auxiliary, the American Cancer Society, and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. You may know her work with the Needlework Guild of America (later known as New Garments Always), whose work was then carried on locally by Justine’s Clothes Bank, housed at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.  She received numerous awards in her lifetime, including the Clara Barton Award for her uninterrupted 80 years of service to the American Red Cross.

This semester, as we particularly recognize the contributions of women in Virginia, it is with deep respect for her legacy that the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom presents the Justine L. Nusbaum Endowed Lectureship, established as a tribute to her by her sons, Robert “Bob” Nusbaum and V. H. Nusbaum, Jr.

The Norfolk Seamstress Who Said “No”: The Political Legacy of Evelyn T. Butts

Date: Thursday, November 8, 2018
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location: Blocker Hall Auditorium
Speaker: Kenny Alexander, Mayor of the City of Norfolk, and a Ph.D. student in the Leadership and Change program at Antioch University

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Evelyn T. Butts was orphaned at the age of 10, worked as a seamstress, and supplemented her income by housing disabled veterans. At the same time, her sense for political citizenship inspired her--through grassroots leadership and a concern for social justice--to challenge the poll tax in Virginia in an unusual case that was decided by the Supreme Court. Mayor Kenny Alexander shares his research into why she was so effective and how her work should continue to speak to us today.