Sarah Lee Odend'hal Fain

(November 23, 1888–July 19, 1962)
Norfolk
Legislator

Sarah Lee Odend'hal grew up in Norfolk, where she taught for more than a decade in the city's public schools. By attending summer school each year, she earned the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in education and administration from the University of Virginia, though it did not then award degrees to women. In 1917 she married Walter Colquitt Fain.

During World War I, Sarah Fain volunteered for the Norfolk Red Cross and sold Liberty bonds. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, she joined the League of Women Voters of Virginia and participated in Democratic Party politics, first campaigning for United States Senator Claude A. Swanson. In 1923 Fain and Helen Timmons Henderson, of Buchanan County, won seats in the House of Delegates, becoming the first two women to serve in Virginia's General Assembly.

As a delegate, Fain focused on issues that were important to her constituents, especially education and maritime pilotage laws. In 1925 she was the first female legislator in the South to win reelection, and she stood unopposed for a third term in 1927. During her last term, she chaired the prestigious Committee on Schools and Colleges.

Fain ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1930. She moved to Washington, D.C., and received appointments in various New Deal agencies, including the National Emergency Council, where she helped establish the United States Information Service and served as its first chief. She later directed a homestead community project and supervised a rural family resettlement program. In 1938, Fain moved to San Marino, California, and continued to participate in local politics there.