The New Woman

614 Oronoco St Alexandria

Lee-Fendall House
Written By Lee-Fendall House

Discover Virginia and American history from three centuries at the Lee-Fendall House Museum. Located in historic Alexandria, this museum interprets the experiences of the people who lived and worked in the house from 1785 to 1969. Explore stories of everyone who has left their mark -- merchants and politicians, enslaved and free African Americans, housewives and actresses, liquor dealers and labor leaders.

1890 to 1920 was a time of great change for women, both politically and socially. Women had greater access to employment and education, and they began to play a more active role in the world around them. The end of this period was marked by women winning the right to vote. Three women lived through this era at the Lee-Fendall House: Myra Lee Civalier, Maude Downham, and Mai Greenwell.

Myra Lee Civalier was a member of the prominent Lee family of Virginia. The Lee-Fendall House was her home from 1881-1902. At a time when more women were beginning to enter the work force, Myra had a career as a celebrated actress, travelling to perform in cities from New York to Texas.

Maude Downham attended a preparatory school for girls in Norwalk, Connecticut. Women of the era were becoming more involved in sports and athletics. Maude's school boasted a "gymnasium" with wooden dumbbells like the ones above and a designated time in the school schedule for exercise.

Mai Greenwell married Robert Downham (brother of Maude Downham) in 1905 and moved into the Lee-Fendall House. Mai continued her career as a singer, performing with the local group "Sharps and Flats," and offering music lessons. Maude was also a supporter of women's suffrage; she signed her name to a petition asking Virginia politicians to pass legislation granting women the right to vote.

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