The first Arbor Day broke ground in Nebraska in 1872. It was the effort of Julius Morton, who aimed to boost the economy while beautifying the landscape with one holiday for planting trees. More than one million trees were planted on the first Arbor Day.
In Virginia, Arbor Day was initiated by Virginia Estelle Randolph, a black teacher from Henrico County. Born Aug. 6, 1874 to parents who had been slaves, Randolph’s impact on education reaches schools in Richmond and the world today. Her methods and philosophies were instituted by Great Britain, and in Africa.
After graduating from Richmond Normal School at the age of 16 (today known as Armstrong High School), Randolph began her teaching career in Goochland, but soon moved to Henrico County, and established the Mountain Road School in 1892. Influenced by Booker T. Washington, she emphasized vocational training and home economics in addition to a traditional academic curriculum. Industrial training included gardening, weaving, woodworking, cooking, and sewing. Randolph personally worked to make landscape improvements to school grounds, planting trees, forming walking paths, and white-washing the schoolhouse. And in an era when public funding for schools was not compulsory, Randolph solicited donations from the public for the school’s operations. The Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Court asked her to provide guidance and support to youth. Independently, she took in children to live with her, and at one time shared her home with seventeen children and adolescents.
In 1908, Henrico County Superintendent Jackson T. Davis named her to an influential post as the first Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher. Anna Jeanes was a wealthy Quaker from Philadelphia who established a fund to pay black teachers to improve vocational training in rural southern public schools. For the next sixty years, Jeanes’ teachers developed vocational programs. In the position, Randolph supervised twenty three elementary schools in Henrico, developing unique teacher training programs, and shaping curricula to meet the needs of each school. She wrote about her experiences in a book called Henrico Plan that became a sourcebook for southern schools taking part in the Jeanes Foundation program. Great Britain officially implemented her techniques and policies in its African colonies.
On March 30, 1908, Randolph founded the first Arbor Day Program in Virginia. To mark the holiday, she and her students planted twelve sycamore trees. Most of those trees have succumbed to time and disease.
Randolph succeeded Maggie L. Walker as leader of the Industrial School Board of Colored Children after the financier’s death. Henrico County enjoyed Randolph’s 57-year career, during which she became recognized internationally as a pioneer in the field of public school education. Though she retired in 1949, a college scholarship foundation was formed in her name five years later. In 1958, Randolph died in Richmond at the age of 84.
The Virginia Randolph Home Economics Cottage is now a museum chronicling Randolph’s work. The Cottage was first designated a State Historic Landmark, and then a National Historic Landmark. Randolph is buried in the yard.
The Virginia Randolph Foundation continues to award scholarships to Henrico Country High School students who will attend college.
A Gift for Generations
Join the Arbor Day Foundation for only $10 and get ten flowering trees, or ten oak trees free of charge. Trees are shipped only during planting seasons. The next shipment session will be October 15 through December 10. The Arbor Day Foundation considers your local climate and what types of trees grow well in your region when sending trees. Consider gifting your church or club: The Foundation will ship there or to another address. Simple planting instructions are included. Info available at www.ArborDay.org
Teachers Admitted Free to History Museum During August
August is Teacher Appreciation Month at the Virginia Historical Society. While the Society always discounts Annual Membership to teachers, August offers month-long free admission for Virginia educators, including principals, teacher’s aides, and librarians who present school ID or business card. 428 N. Boulevard; Hours: Mon. – Sat. 10 am – 5 pm; Sunday 1 pm – 5 pm. Regular admission: Adults, $5; Seniors, $4; Students, $3; Members, free. Gallery admission is free on Sundays. 358-4901 or visit www.VaHistorical.org.