F.C. Women’s Walk Returns After Pandemic Forced 2 Year Hiatus

A NEW SIDEWALK along South Maple Avenue has women’s history factoids engraved onto them. They have been integrated into the Women’s Walk taking place this Sunday (Photo: News-Press)

When you have to wait for something, it makes it all the more sweet when you finally get to enjoy it. That’s definitely the case for the fourth annual Women’s Walk through the City of Falls Church on Sunday, which hasn’t been able to be enjoyed by citizens for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The walk, which is the brainchild of Nikki Graves Henderson and organized by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, the Elected Women of Falls Church and Falls Church’s Women’s History Group, will have a different look and feel this year due to Covid-safe precautions — which include mask-wearing and social distancing throughout the entire walk. However, the interest in hoofing the tour of the City is as high as it’s ever been.

“I’ve heard nothing but excitement from people who are really looking forward to getting out and seeing each other and doing something fun,” Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly said, who’s one of the lead organizers of the events. “A lot of times, we get to this point in the year or any point in the year, and there’s like 1,000 things to do. And we haven’t had anything to do. So I do feel like this is going to be a lot of people.”

One of the ironies of the virus mitigation measures is that it will allow the walk to be done in the free range way organizers had always intended. While in years past everyone would show up at the same time and march through the walk together, Connelly said the need to stay distant this year will encourage a more choose-your-own-adventure vibe to the walk. That means that people can start at any of the three major landmarks on the trail — Big Chimneys Park, City Hall or Tinner Hill Park — and begin their roughly two-mile trip around town.

(Connelly does have a recommended route, however, suggesting walkers start at Big Chimneys Park since it is a good midway point.)

And just because things are a bit different doesn’t mean the grand marshals have been done away with. This year’s honorees are Alma Amaker, a lifelong teacher who was one of the first Black teachers to work at an integrated school, Doris Newcomb, owner of Tower Square Shopping Center and an AM radio station, Mary Ellen Shaw, a former teacher and superintendent with Falls Church City Schools and Sally Phillips and Ellen Salsbury, who were prominent volunteers within the school system, and either served on City boards and commissions or on the school board (or both).

The late Marie Hirst Yochim, who passed away in 2012, is the final grand marshal. She’s best known for her decades of work with the Daughters of the American Revolution, which includes serving as the national president of the DAR for three years.

Outside of grand marshals, Connelly said that the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce will be recognizing 44 female entrepreneurs in the City with their own section along South Maple Street. The section will consist of the small yard-style signs where the womens’ picture and their responses to the three questions — Who inspires you? What’s the best part about owning a business? What’s your superpower?

Connelly added that 18 notable Falls Church students will also be acknowledged during the walk. Called the “Young Women of Action,” they include the students who organized the protest following the killing of George Floyd last year, as well as the leaders in the SCA, Black Student Union, Social Justice Clubs, Women’s History, Mental Health and the School Board.

These new sections are meant to help flesh out the walk more as Covid precautions have temporarily canceled the feature where esteemed women in the City would talk to passersby. Formerly, some of those women were Mary Gavin, the City’s Chief of Police, and the late Barb Cram, a volunteer maven for decades in Falls Church.

But even if there aren’t docents to interact with along the walk, people should notice that some of the new sidewalks along Maple Street will have their own text to read from.

“When the City added some sidewalk there on that block of Maple Avenue that was never there before. And this was when Nikki suggested it should have women’s history inscribed on it,” Connelly said, who added that there are roughly 12 sidewalk blocks with text on them. “So in front of the Henderson house, it’s written in stone and it’s Henderson history. And if you go a little further along in front of Borek G, it has women’s history. The hope is that, as sidewalks get added throughout that neighborhood, we’ll be able to add more women permanently instead of just on once a year signage.”

Connelly did point out that there won’t be a rally-like event at the end, as there has been previously. But she believes that people just bumping into those they haven’t seen in a while will help satisfy the social itch so many are fiending for right now.

The walk will also have partnerships with restaurants who will be offering special deals as well. Connelly didn’t want to reveal a definitive list since it’s still being hammered out, but she did say that the Johnson’s Cafe and Happy Tart are looking to provide walkers with something unique.