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New grave marker honors the courageous Richmond woman who fought for the right to vote

Posted at 6:06 PM, Aug 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 18:06:10-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- In Shockoe Hill Cemetery, where legendary Supreme Court Justice John Marshall is buried, sits a new grave marker honoring the final resting place of a woman’s suffrage leader.

Nora Houston was a well-known artist and teacher in Richmond in the early 20th century and prominent leader of the women’s suffrage movement in Virginia.

Her grave was unmarked until last week.

“She was a little bit of a rabble-rouser,” John Tucker, President of the Nora Houston Foundation, said. “She knew what was right and worked toward that end.”

Houston was an original founder of the Equal Suffrage League of Richmond, with her friend and fellow artist Adele Clark.

The pair would often use their artwork as a form of public activism to call for the right to vote, according to Tucker.

“They would often set up their easels somewhere in Richmond, either at 6th and Broad or Monroe Park, and they would start painting. Crowds would gather to see what they were painting, and then they would launch into speeches about women’s suffrage,” Tucker said. “[Houston] faced opposition. When she died in 1942, amongst her keepsakes was a rock. The rock was from an incident in the 1910’s when she was speaking about women’s suffrage that someone in the crowd didn’t like what she was saying and they tossed a rock at her.”

The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Houston, according to historians, worked to improve race relations in Virginia, actively working to register Black women in Jackson Ward and hosting strategy sessions with prominent Black pastors in Richmond at her Richmond art studio.

“[Houston and Clark] were successful in personally registering, records have it at over 200 women from Jackson Ward in time for the 1920 Presidential election,” Tucker said.

The Nora Houston Foundation’s primary focus is to preserve her artwork, but in 2015 when Tucker and others realized her final resting place remained unmarked, they began raising funds to change that.

“She didn’t have much money at the time when she died, and no one else stepped forward to establish a marker for her,” Tucker said.

With a sizable donation from The Catholic Woman’s Club of Richmond, of which Houston served as President for several years, the marker was finally unveiled August 18, 2020, on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the moment Houston and other fought so hard to achieve.

Tucker said while the marker may be a small stone in a large plot, the hope is that those who pass by will see it and look into Houston’s legacy.

“Do a little more research to find out what these things were about, what she was about, what that era was about, and how that was a monumental step in the history of Virginia, the history of this country and that she played a major role in that step.”

You can learn more about the Nora Houston Foundation here and you can find resources on her life, passions, and accomplishments here.

Houston is one of a few dozen women initially honored on The Virginia Women’s Monument.