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Notable Virginia Women -  Mary-Cooke Branch Munford  (1865–1938)


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Born in Richmond and educated privately, Mary-Cooke Branch Munford (1865–1938) was not allowed by her mother to attend college. Instead, she sought other ways to develop her keen intellect and her desire for social usefulness.

After her 1893 marriage to Beverley Bland Munford, she launched into a career of community activity. In 1894, she established a citywide Woman’s Club, which quickly became one of Virginia’s premier women’s organizations. Late in the 1890s, Munford served on the board of the Richmond Consumer’s League, and in 1900 joined Lila Meade Valentine in establishing the Richmond Education Association, a group dedicated to improving the city’s struggling public school system. From 1904 through 1911, Munford served as president of the association. In 1920 she was the first woman appointed to serve on the Richmond City School Board.

Munford’s interest in education extended beyond Richmond. During her tenure as president of the Co-Operative Education Association of Virginia, the state led the South in implementing major educational reforms. In 1910, she launched a crusade through the Co-Ordinate College League to establish a college for women affiliated with the University of Virginia. The effort failed, but she convinced the College of William and Mary to admit women in 1918 when the college became a state institution.

Joining other progressive thinkers in the South to improve race relations and promote interracial cooperation, Munford assisted Janie Porter Barrett in founding the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls in 1915 and served on its first board of trustees. Munford was also a trustee of Fisk University and the National Urban League and a founding member of the Virginia Inter-Racial Committee.

Munford’s reputation extended beyond Virginia. She served on commissions on rural life and also on the boards of the National Consumers’ League and the National Child Labor Committee. During World War I she became involved in national defense work, and in 1920 was appointed a member of the Democratic National Committee.

After her death in Richmond, the University of Virginia commemorated her outstanding contributions to education by naming a building after her. An elementary school in Richmond also bears her name.

Margaret H. Forbes, Richmond, and Eleanor P. Rowlett, Richmond, to Mary-Cooke Branch Munford, Richmond. March 1931. Manuscript. Mary-Cooke Branch Munford Papers. Acc. 28142

At a February 1931 school board meeting, Mary-Cooke Branch Munford, the only woman member, declared that “women with the experience of marriage are better qualified as teachers by this experience, and I object strenuously to penalizing a woman for being married.” Persuaded by her arguments, the school board reversed its policy of discriminating against married teachers.