Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Invitation to the Falls Church Women’s History Walk

Sometimes an idea comes along that is so timely, so interesting, so right that everyone wants to be part of it. The upcoming Falls Church Women’s History Walk is one of those ideas. If you aren’t already involved, consider this your heartfelt invitation to be part of it. There are many reasons to gather to celebrate history-making women, focus on wellness, and build community right here in Falls Church.

On Sunday, March 26 the mile-long walk will kick-off at 2 p.m., but participants can start later and enjoy the walk as they wish. The “Herstory Stations” will be set up throughout the afternoon, and afterwards we will be gathering for a Community Resource Fair in the Community Center until 5 p.m.

Despite our small size, Falls Church looms large in American history. Some of our predecessors made history that is written “in the books.” Others provide a unique window into historic events. Some of the names on the Women’s History Walk will be familiar to Falls Church residents because streets, buildings and schools are named for them. Some aren’t as familiar, but they are worth getting to know!

Women have been making history in Falls Church since before the 1600s. The first European settlement at Big Chimneys dates to 1699. We don’t know exactly who lived at the inn/trading post but we have to assume that at least one woman lived in the log house with big chimneys. There was plenty of work to do at the important stop along the Rolling Road between Virginia tobacco plantations and the Alexandria port.

Falls Church has been home to noted abolitionists, educators, visionaries. Women who persisted. Women who made a difference. Here’s a snapshot of some of the women we will recognize.

• Harriet Foote Turner was a free woman of color who led 12 enslaved people to freedom in Canada by forging their papers and posing as their owner.

• Pioneering educator Nancy Sprague’s vision influences Falls Church and Fairfax educators today.

• Mary Ellen Henderson petitioned the Fairfax School Board for 20 years for a better school for her African American students. Her detailed study of the inadequacy of her facilities caught their attention.

• Mattie Gundry founded and ran the Virginia Training School, the only school in South for children with special needs.

• Alixa Naff, an immigrant from Lebanon, is considered the Mother of Arab-American Studies in the United States.

These are five of the 14 women whose stories we will tell.

There’s a big question that each of us has to answer: What are you doing, today, to carry on the legacy of these women? What are you doing to make a difference in our local community and the world? How are you bridging the divide and getting to know people who aren’t in your usual circles? How are you making life better for others?

Everyday life has a way of overwhelming our dreams of doing something big (or small), and our polarized society makes it difficult to bridge the gap between people. We hope that events like the Women’s History Walk will provide the opportunity to think about bravery, determination, health, purpose, community, sisterhood in a way that empowers each person to make a difference for others.

While we discover history, we will also celebrate health and wellness. Taking a walk is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind. We hope this walk puts a spring in your step and inspires you to make history.

Everyone is invited – old, young, women and men, visitors from afar and neighbors from around the corner. People in strollers and wheelchairs, those using skates, scooters and canes are all welcome.

The Women’s History Walk is presented by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and its board members Nikki Graves Henderson, Dr. Beverly PIttman and Rebecca Stotts, as well as the six women elected to office in Falls Church: Jody Acosta, Marybeth Connelly, Erin Gill, Letty Hardi, Karen Oliver, Letty Hardi and Margaret Ward. It is sponsored by the American Council on Exercise and the Falls Church AAUW.

The Community Resource Fair will have refreshments, as well as information shared by your neighbors who are part of AAUW, Corepower Yoga, Cultural Care Au Pair, Fit4Mom, League of Women Voters, Lethbridge & Associates, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, VPIS, We Support the Girls. We are grateful to the City of Falls Church for logistical support.

We are adding exhibitors and sponsors every day, so if you want to participate, we’d love to have you. Contact me at mbdoncon@gmail.com for information on being part of the Women’s History Walk. Sign up on the Facebook Event Page: Falls Church Women’s History Walk, to get previews, updates, maps and more.


Marybeth Connelly is the vice mayor of the City of Falls Church and occasionally a tour guide of a popular Falls Church History Bus Tour.