WAAD Member Spotlight: Virginia Spottswood Simon '42

Written by Desiree Urquhart DS '99

Virginia Svirginia-spottswood-simon---42pottswood was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts in March, 1920, the eldest of five children born to Viola Estelle (nee Booker) of New York and to a young African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister, Stephen Gill Spottswood of Boston.  Within a year, they moved to Portland, Maine. As the family grew, the Spottswoods relocated to Connecticut, North Carolina, Indiana, New York and Washington, DC while her father rose in prominence to become bishop in the AME Zion Conference.

Virginia always dreamed of attending Wellesley. After graduating from Dunbar High School in DC, her father insisted that she enroll at their church’s denominational institution, Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. In spring of 1941, she earned her Bachelor Degree in English and returned home to Washington, content to live a quiet and uneventful life.

But one day in August 1941 while working in her father’s church office, Bishop Spottswood surprised his daughter with an announcement that she had been accepted into Wellesley College’s master degree program, thanks to his and the president of Livingstone College’s private efforts.  Despite the good news, the Dean of Students sent word that it was too late to offer Virginia a room in the “graduate house” but that the College had secured off-campus housing for her and a roommate in the Town of Wellesley. Within days, the bewildered, yet ecstatic Virginia boarded a train from Washington to Boston. She and her black roommate, Jean Jennifer ’43, walked to campus every day and ate at a diner in town because they did not have dining hall privileges on campus nor cooking privileges in the house where they lived.

The summer before Wellesley, Virginia had met and started dating Walter Simon, an artist and friend of her brother.  He was then a draftee private stationed at Ft. Belvoir with the U.S. Army 95th Regiment. On occasional weekends Walter would visit Virginia in Boston and the couple would spend time touring museums and art galleries. After the war broke out, Virginia left campus in March 1942 to meet Walter in Washington where her father married them. Walter returned to his regiment and left for Canada to build a section of the Alaskan-Canadian Highway while she finished her graduate studies.

After graduation, the new Mrs. Simon returned to Washington, gave birth to their first child and worked as a substitute teacher for two and a half years until Walter returned home from war.

The next two decades were filled with travel and two additions to the family. Walter went back to school on the GI Bill, earned his BA in art from NYU and subsequently earned a master’s degree and a PhD while teaching art at several colleges. In 1961, Walter joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer and in 1964, took his family with him on assignment to Cairo, Egypt. “Virgie,” as Walter called her, learned Arabic to help translate for her husband during many of his meetings. (See Ebony Magazine Archives, November 1964).

The family stayed together during Walter’s other tours of duty throughout the Middle East.  During this time abroad, Virgie’s passion for Nubian history grew. After Walter’s death in 1979, she wrote an unpublished book about Nubian culture and its kingdoms. She later became the first African American to serve on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Council.

Miss Virginia currently lives in Richmond, Virginia where she is cataloguing her husband’s papers to archive at Emory University at their request. She was thrilled to join the Central Virginia and Tidewater Clubs at their jointly held Worldwide WAAD Day on April 18, 2015 where members celebrated her 95th birthday.