Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Elisabeth Strother Scott Bocock (8 February 1901–9 December 1985), civic leader, was born in Richmond, the daughter of Frederic William Scott, a banker, and Elisabeth Mayo Strother Scott. She attended Virginia Randolph Ellett's school in Richmond and in 1919 graduated from Saint Timothy's School in Stevenson, Maryland. On 3 May 1928 Scott married a Richmond attorney, John Holmes Bocock (1890–1958), a grandson of the prominent Presbyterian minister of that name. A year earlier her lifelong involvement in civic affairs had begun when she became a founding member of the Richmond Junior League.

Historic Preservation
Bocock raised one son and two daughters. Realizing the economic importance of preserving Richmond's historic fabric, she developed a growing interest in historic preservation. Along with her cousin, the Richmond preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott, she fought for the city's architectural heritage and in 1935 helped found the William Byrd Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (later Preservation Virginia) to salvage properties of architectural or historical value. She was an early advocate of the adaptive reuse of old buildings and urged the city council to save structures that were not only important but that also could be put to good use. On a number of occasions Bocock used her own money to purchase a building imminently threatened by bulldozers, only stopping to raise funds for its preservation after it had been saved from destruction. She frequently served on the board of the William Byrd Branch, and through her efforts as chair of the finance committee she secured the gift of the Ellen Glasgow house to the association in 1947. She chaired the branch's annual tour committee in 1952 and served as vice director in 1940 and 1957.

Bocock helped found the Historic Richmond Foundation in 1956 and was part of its effort to persuade the city council to enact a historic zoning ordinance, which was first employed in the area of Church Hill near Saint John's Episcopal Church. She provided funding for studies of historic areas to show how they could be developed to preserve their integrity and remain economically viable. Throughout her long career, Bocock bought and rented numerous properties in order to save them and on several occasions moved buildings from the path of destruction so they could be reconstructed elsewhere in the city and not lost to modern development. Although her fellow preservationists did not always agree with her methods, Bocock's tireless efforts to preserve the historic structures of Richmond were deeply appreciated, and after her death the General Assembly passed a resolution honoring her work to save the city's heritage.

Beautification Efforts
Bocock involved herself in highway beautification and served as the corresponding secretary for the Associated Clubs of Virginia for Roadside Development (ACVRD) from 1954 to 1956. Constituting an alliance among the Garden Club of Virginia, the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs, the Virginia Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs, and the Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs, the ACVRD proposed adding roadside plantings to Virginia's new interstate highways to make them attractive and safe for drivers. Rosebushes planted in the medians, Bocock argued, would reduce the glare from oncoming headlights, lessen driver fatigue, and "cushion collisions where cars go out of control." Bocock chaired the ACVRD's turnpike landscape committee from 1955 to 1960, taking women on driving tours of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (which she called an "unbeautiful speedway"), questioning its general manager, and lobbying Senator Harry Flood Byrd (1887–1966). From 1956 to 1958 she also chaired the alliance's finance committee.

Higher Education
A month after her husband died on 14 August 1958, Bocock embarked on the pursuit of a college degree at the age of fifty-seven. Her father had not approved of higher education for women, but this nontraditional student traveled to Ambler Junior College near Philadelphia (a branch of Temple University) in September 1958 to take classes in horticulture. Bocock found her chemistry course especially difficult, describing her professor in her diary as "an embryo Ethan Frome…come into our once happy lives to worry and darken our days." Bocock subsequently took courses at Mary Washington College, Westhampton College of the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and Mary Baldwin College before bringing her accumulated credits to Richmond Professional Institute (later Virginia Commonwealth University). On 8 June 1969 she finally received a B.A. in English from Virginia Commonwealth University along with a special service award.

Community Activity
Bocock was a woman of action whose life was a flurry of meetings and letters. Her boundless energy and steely determination earned her the family nickname "Mrs. Bulldozer." In 1942 she was Richmond's Christmas Mother, heading the effort to provide holiday relief for the city's needy families. Bocock helped found several cultural organizations in Richmond, among them the Hand Workshop (opened in Church Hill in 1963) and the Richmond Symphony. She also served from 1942 to 1965 as a trustee of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. With her own collection of antique carriages Bocock sought "to offer glimpses of [a] 19th Century way of life away from 20th Century speed and pressure." She first displayed them in her Early Virginia Vehicular Museum and later donated them to Maymont Park in Richmond. Always ready to defend Richmond's past, she opposed expressway construction as a member of the Committee for the Alternative and promoted the historic and architectural value of iron-front buildings on East Main Street through involvement in the Committee to Save a Vanishing Environment.

When buildings were threatened Bocock picketed (and once passed out knitted hats to her fellow protesters), telling her family, "If you don't like my doing it, I'm very sad, and I apologize to you, but I can't go back on my word. I won't be a turncoat." When she disagreed with the direction that the Hand Workshop was taking, she led a group resignation from the board of directors. Bocock reacted to the trimming and eventual felling of a majestic elm near her house on West Franklin Street with a telegram to the city council protesting its "tree butchering." Her love of the outdoors also evidenced itself in October 1960 when a state chapter of the Nature Conservancy was organized at a meeting in her home and she was named a director. Bocock unsuccessfully championed the return of electric trolleys to Richmond streets and wrote letters of protest with a fountain pen nearly always supplied with bright green ink, her favorite color.

Later Years
Bocock had a lifelong connection to Virginia Commonwealth University. Her house was on the campus. After her husband died and her children were grown she put the spacious residence to good use by housing twenty-two female students in the front of the building while living in the back herself. A traditionalist, Bocock was appalled when male and female students lived together in dormitories and did her part to keep the sexes separate. Her house later became office space for the university. From the winter of 1958 until 1967 the Junior League operated a senior center on the first floor of the Bocock house, offering both classes and recreation.

Late in life Bocock published a short remembrance of Richmond during her childhood. She received the Barbara Ransome Andrews Award from the Richmond Junior League in 1979 and the Individual Service Award from the Federated Arts Council in 1982. When asked what motivated her unrelenting community service work, Bocock replied simply: "How can I expect others to do something for my community if I am not willing to do it myself?"

Elisabeth Strother Scott Bocock died of an apparent heart attack on 9 December 1985 at her Richmond home and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.

Sources Consulted:
Mary Buford Hitz, Never Ask Permission: Elisabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond (2000), with portaits; Elisabeth Scott Bocock Papers, Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (first quotation in Bocock to John J. Pershing, 16 July 1956, second quotation in Bocock to "cousins Sara and Charles," 17 July 1957, third quotation in diary entry, 30 Sept. 1958, fourth quotation in "Purposes of E.V.V.M.," sixth quotation in telegram to city council, 20 Oct. 1964, seventh quotation in "Volunteer for All Seasons," Leaguer, 1 Nov. 1982); Bocock, "Now and Then: A Way of Life in Richmond in the Early 1900's," Richmond Quarterly 4 (spring 1982): 24–31; Marriage Register, Richmond City, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Richmond News Leader, 3 May 1928, 6 Feb. 1974 (fifth quotation), 16 Dec. 1985; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10 Dec. 1965, 2 June 1978, 2 May 1982; Virginia Garden Gossip 31 (Feb. 1956): 4, (Nov. 1956): 10, (Dec. 1956): 13, 27; obituaries in Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 10 Dec. 1985.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Jennifer Davis McDaid.

How to cite this page:
Jennifer Davis McDaid,"Elisabeth Strother Scott Bocock (1901–1985)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Bocock_Elisabeth_Scott, accessed [today's date]).

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