Women in public office. It may seem normal today—look at Arlington’s School Board with four of five members female, and our County Board with two of five.
But it was not long ago when “women made the coffee and the men ran for office,” I was reminded recently by longtime Arlington political activist Vivian Kallen, herself an early distaff candidate for state delegate in 1969.
Kallen chalks up progress to the legacy of the late Kathryn H. Stone, a “legendary figure in the history of Arlington County and the Commonwealth,” as it was phrased in a resolution commemorating Stone’s achievements passed by the General Assembly in February 2001.
Today, Kallen worries, Stone risks falling into obscurity because of a “vanishing” generation of citizens who knew her and appreciated her courage.
As the first female state delegate from Northern Virginia, Stone spent 12 years (1954-66) battling the Byrd Machine on the poll tax, rural domination of apportionment and the state’s “massive resistance” to Supreme Court-ordered school desegregation.
Urged to run by Arlington attorney and civil rights leader Edmund Campbell, Stone braved her way to defending the NAACP’s lawsuits. “She received threatening phone calls, and legislators got off the elevator when she got on,” says Kallen, who once helped arrange an exhibit on Stone at the Arlington Central Library. “She took it all and never backed down.”
The Iowa-born Stone, before moving to South Arlington’s Ridge Road neighborhood, established herself as a theorist by co-authoring two books on the city manager form of government. As an organizer in 1944 she became the first president of Arlington/Alexandria League of Women Voters.
When the segregationists were defeated in the late 1950s, Kallen says, Gov. James Almond summoned Stone and said, “I’ve lost this battle, so help me make constructive use of this situation.”
Stone also worked on JFK’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, later seeking funding for health, education and mental health.
In Richmond, she introduced a bill to establish a State Commission on the Status of Women. It failed, but nonetheless it prompted Gov. Albertis Harrison to create such a body.
Stone became a plaintiff in a 1964 Supreme Court case challenging Virginia’s reapportionment plan that gave rural areas more seats than heavily populated urban areas.
Using her local government expertise, she helped launch Virginia’s first regional planning commission, which became the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Kallen notes. She also served on a commission to create Arlington’s merit personnel system, the state’s first.
“Kathryn had a sharp intellect but was no glad-hander,” recalls Kallen, who taught political science at Northern Virginia Community College. Former County Board member Joe Wholey called Stone a “giant, and I feel she was head and shoulders above 90 percent of the people in public office today,” Kallen adds.
When Stone died in 1995, at age 88, “there were not many buildings to name after her,” Kallen says. “Honoring her would tell us a lot about our community, our history, about times we’d rather forget.” Stone’s papers are in the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.
The late County Board member Ellen Bozman called her “the mother of us all.” But Stone’s legacy reaches beyond liberal Democrats. In early January, the new representative to Congress from Virginia’s 10th District will be conservative, Republican and female Barbara Comstock.