Virginia Estelle Randolph (1874–1958)
Virginia Estelle Randolph's innovative teaching techniques became the model for African American education throughout the South early in the twentieth century.
The child of former slaves, Virginia Estelle Randolph (June 8, 1874–March 16, 1958) completed her education at the age of sixteen and took her first teaching job in Goochland County. In 1892 she began teaching at the Mountain Road School, in Henrico County. There she developed her unique approach to education by creating a successful formula based on practicality, creativity, and involvement from parents and the community. A firm believer in learning through doing, Randolph combined academic instruction with lessons on cooking, weaving, and gardening. Because of her innovative teaching style, in October 1908 she became the first Jeanes Supervisor Industrial Teacher, a position she held for more than forty years. Her work took her throughout the South and earned her a national and international reputation as a leader in education.
In 1915 a new high school for African Americans, the Virginia Randolph County Training School, was constructed in Randolph's honor. In 1930 a larger brick building replaced the original school after a fire destroyed it. In 1924 a girls' dormitory opened, located on three acres purchased by Randolph next to the school, to provide housing for thirty female students. Randolph also took students into her own home. The 1930 census lists fourteen "adopted" sons and daughters, ranging in age from eleven to nineteen, living in her household.
In recognition of her success, Randolph received a William E. Harmon Award in 1926. She retired in 1949 and died in 1958. In 1970 the Virginia Randolph School was dedicated as a museum, and in 1974 the Virginia Randolph Cottage became a National Historic Landmark.
READ A Brief Report on the Manual Training Work Done in the Colored Schools of Henrico County, Va., for session 1908–1909 by Virginia Estelle Randolph. What suggestions did Virginia Randolph make to improve the Henrico school system? What can you do to improve your own school system?
• Virginia Estelle Randolph's account of how she improved the grounds around Mountain Road School.
SEE the Henrico County Public Schools Television 2008 video where the curator of the Virginia Randolph Museum and the principal at Virginia Randolph Community High School discuss Virginia Randolph's contributions. What is Virginia Randolph's legacy?
Top Image courtesy of The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Image on left courtesy of the Library of Virginia