Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Lillie Pearl Hovermale Fearnow (19 August 1881–6 March 1970), entrepreneur, was born in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and was the daughter of Joseph Cassidy Hovermale, a farmer, and Catherine Ruppenthall Hovermale. On 20 August 1905 in her hometown she married Brady Goshen Fearnow. They lived in Pittsburgh, where he worked for a railroad, and had one son and one daughter. Early in the 1910s they moved to Virginia and purchased a farm near the community of Ellerson in Hanover County. They had three more sons in Virginia.

He raised fruits and vegetables at their New Hope truck farm, and she won numerous awards at Virginia's county and state fairs for her canned produce. She began making Brunswick stew, for which she was later renowned, with chicken and local produce. In the 1920s Fearnow began selling her stew through the Woman's Exchange in downtown Richmond, where many women sold homemade goods to earn money. Mangers at the exchange told Fearnow that her stew would be unlikely to sell well, but it did, and she eventually enlisted two of her daughters-in-law to help meet demand. Several department and grocery stores in Richmond sold it, and by the end of World War II Fearnow was shipping crates of stew throughout the country and to soldiers overseas. Until 1946 she and her daughters-in-law cooked all the stew in their own kitchens. In that year her sons Herbert Clyde Fearnow and George Nelson Fearnow established the Fearnow Brothers Cannery in nearby Mechanicsville and began commercial production on a large scale, daily filling about 1,000 cans that sold under the brand name Mrs. Fearnow's Home Made Chicken Brunswick Stew. Fearnow continued to work on the farm and in the cannery after her husband died on 7 May 1949, and she was also active in the Shady Grove Methodist Church and its Sunday school.

The family's hard work paid off, and the cannery's production continued to grow. Fearnow was extremely proud of her stew, so much so that one of her grandsons recalled that she would "whack you on the shins" if you called it soup. Her sons and daughters-in-law and later her grandchildren continued to operate the cannery after her death and expanded the facility multiple times. They also introduced other products, such as black-eyed peas and stewed tomatoes. In the 1990s the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce gave away cans of the stew to entice businessmen to the county. In July 1996 the company celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Three years later the family sold the company to Castleberry/Snow's Brands Inc., and Mrs. Fearnow's Brunswick Stew remains a popular regional brand in the twenty-first century. Lillie Pearl Hovermale Fearnow continued to be the company's backbone and worked at the cannery until she died of a stroke at a Henrico County health care facility on 6 March 1970. She was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Henrico County.

Sources Consulted:
Birth date in Social Security application, Social Security Administration, Office of Earnings Operations, Baltimore, Md; feature articles on Fearnow and the company in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 19 June 1955, 14 Dec. 1958, 13 Feb. 1966, 2 Dec. 1987, 22 July 1996, 29 July 1999, 5 Dec. 1999, Richmond News Leader, 23 Oct. 1956, and Washington Post, 7 Nov. 1983 (quotation); Marriage License, Morgan County, West Virginia; birth and death dates in Death Certificate, Henrico Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health; obituaries in Richmond News Leader, 6 Mar. 1970, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7 Mar. 1970 (portrait).

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Shalor Toncray.

How to cite this page:
Shalor Toncray,"Lillie Pearl Hovermale Fearnow (1881–1970)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2016 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Fearnow_Lillie_Pearl_Hovermale, accessed [today's date]).

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