January 2020

An Honor in Bronze

Statue depicts woman ag entrepreneur 

A moment 10 years in the making unfolded on Oct. 14, 2019, when seven bronze statues of Virginia women were unveiled in Richmond’s Capitol Square. The statues are the first of 12 that will form the Virginia Women’s Monument.

One of them depicts Laura Lu Scherer Copenhaver, a Smyth County agricultural entrepreneur.

Copenhaver, who died in 1940 at 72, coordinated the production of textiles out of her home, Rosemont, using local wool and local workers to create home goods. Rosemont textiles, which were sold through a mail-order catalog, attracted customers throughout the United States and in Asia, Europe and South America. Merchandise included rugs, bedding and other items, some made by hand and others by machine.

After Copenhaver’s death, the business was incorporated as Laura Copenhaver Industries and operated until 2012.

An early leader in Virginia Farm Bureau, Copenhaver served as the organization’s director of information. Among her strategies for developing Southwest Virginia’s agricultural economy was cooperative marketing of farm products to improve farm families’ standards of living.

In January 2019, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation (VFBF) donated $100,000 to the Virginia Capitol Foundation to support installation of the Copenhaver statue in the Virginia Women’s Monument. About one-fifth of the donation came from county farm bureaus.

VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor says Copenhaver’s legacy and her service to both Southwest Virginia and to Farm Bureau, are considerable, though not necessarily recognized statewide.

“We’re extremely pleased to help share her story and help create this lasting tribute,” Pryor says.

Emily F. Edmondson, a Tazewell County cattle producer who serves on the VFBF board of directors, calls Copenhaver a visionary.

“Women in Virginia have always been crucial to the success of agriculture. They are now the fastest-growing segment of new Virginia farmers,” Edmondson notes. “The Virginia Farm Bureau is richer for Laura Copenhaver’s early efforts, and we strive to make a better environment for all Virginians and especially its farmers.”

Edmondson, who also serves as rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Marion, offered a prayer at the monument dedication, which she attended with her grandchildren.

“This monument looks to the past and recognizes many of the women who made a positive impact for others,” she says. “But this monument will also inspire women to keep striving for excellence, bravery, love and service for family and community, so that Virginia becomes an even better place to live.”

Copenhaver’s advocacy inspired the Women’s Missionary Society of the United Lutheran Church in America to found the Konnarock Training School to provide elementary-level education for children in Smyth County who did not have access to other public schools.

VIRGINIA WOMEN’S MONUMENT

Other statues currently in the Virginia Women’s Monument depict Pamunkey chief Cockacoeske, who signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677; Mary Draper Ingles, a Southwest Virginia frontierswoman; Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly, a Dinwiddie County slave who earned her freedom and became a successful seamstress; Ann Burras Layden, one of Virginia’s earliest settlers; Virginia Estelle Randolph, a child of former slaves who became a world-renowned educator; and Adele Clark, an artist and founder of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.

Titled “Voices from the Garden,” the monument is being installed in stages on Richmond’s Capitol Square and is the nation’s first installation on the grounds of a state capitol to showcase the full range of achievements and contributions made by women. Details are available at womensmonumentcom.virginia.gov.