Author: Tim Brinkley
Petersburg Home for Ladies has several notable paintings displayed in prominent locations throughout our home. These paintings have a special meaning to our organization and tell the story of our history. As you read, let your mind wander to a bygone era and discover the subtle nuances which have made Petersburg Home for Ladies truly a place of elegant living with exceptional care.
Anna Mercer Dunlop is created with the inception of the Petersburg Area Art League in the year 1932. Locally known as “Dean of the Artists”, Anna was sought for her prowess as both painter and inspiration. In the year 1934 Anna Dunlop was commissioned by the Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of Directors for the purpose of creating four significant portraits, to commemorate our founders and the milestone events which had thus far marked the journey of the, then merely adolescent, Petersburg Home for Ladies. Portraits were commissioned for Mrs. Mary Friend Whyte, Mrs. Kate Stiles Knuckles, Commander Thomas DeForrest Harris and his wife Mrs. Mamie Jones Butt Harris. The following is the story leading to the creation of these portraits and other significant paintings and photographs displayed at Petersburg Home for Ladies.
Watch The Video
Mrs. Mary Friend Whyte
There once was a rocking chair, which sat upon the porch of 22 Franklin Street in Petersburg Virginia. Calvin Coolidge was President and Samuel Zimmer was the mayor of Petersburg. Mary Friend Whyte sat looking across the neighborhood. There were few cars in those days, and many folks passed by her porch, pausing to join her for midafternoon chats and a break from the heat. From these “rocking chair conversations” an idea arose that to this day is arguably unmatched in the scope of its providential breadth and community impact. That idea; what would be known as Petersburg Home for Ladies.
Mary Friend Whyte was a true social networker, long before those terms were ever coined. Her rocking chair conversations led to more than simple afternoon banter. In a time when women had only recently earned the right to vote, she was an innovative problem solver with the cunning and charisma to not simply discuss a matter, but also rally the community to action. She served Petersburg Home for Ladies as Founder and Board of Directors President for 30 years. Though “Miss Mary” served as Board President until her death on November 23rd, 1955, the First vice President Mrs. Herbert Lightfoot occupied the chair of President from December 1952 until her appointment as President following the passing of Miss Mary.
This portrait of Mrs. Mary Friend Whyte, affectionally known as “Miss Mary”, commissioned for painting by the Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of directors in the year 1934 and painted by local artist Miss Anna Dunlop, hangs above the gathering area of our main entrance as testament to her vision, wit and charm.
Mrs. Kate Stiles Knuckles
Mrs. Kate Stiles Knuckles, close friend and neighbor of Mary Friend Whyte spent many a summer morning enjoying rocking chair conversations. She donated the first Ladies Home property, located at 407 Harrison Street. This donation was made in honor and memory of her parents Mildred Hester Jordan and Jacob Woodson Nuckols and her in-laws Mary Ellen Brunet and Waverly Ringold Stiles. The Ladies Home opened on July 1, 1925. The first ladies home housed three residents.
This portrait of Kate Stiles Knuckles, commissioned for painting by the Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of directors in the year 1934 and painted by local artist Miss Anna Dunlop, hangs above the fireplace in our Rose Room, commemorating her generosity.
Commander Thomas DeForrest Harris and Mamie Jones Butt Harris
Mary Whyte met Commander Harris during his later years. He was a widower and childless. It was during one of her “rocking chair conversations” that she convinced him to leave a portion of his estate to Petersburg Home for Ladies. In the year 1928, a bequest from the estate of Commander Thomas DeForrest Harris and his wife Mamie Jones Butt Harris was gifted as an endowment to the Ladies Home. Proceeds from these investments allowed the Ladies Home to purchase 405 Harrison Street and expand their operations to include ten residents and a live in matron. While many struggled to endure the challenges of what became known as the Great Depression, Petersburg Home for Ladies was able to adeptly navigate these same challenges largely due to this bequest. In the year 1936 the remaining investments from the Harris estate were used to purchase 36 West Fillmore Street. This twenty-room home would become the second location of Petersburg Home for Ladies.
These two portraits of Commander Thomas DeForrest Harris and Mamie Jones Butt Harris, commissioned for painting by the Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of directors in the year 1934 and painted by local artist Miss Anna Dunlop, keep a watchful eye over our reception area, honoring them for their gifts which sustained the Petersburg Home for Ladies through the Great Depression and ushered the Ladies Home into a new era of expansion on Fillmore Street.
Mrs. Margaret Hoge Reavis DeRohan
It was the year 1944. The nation had been at war for a year and even Petersburg Home for Ladies, now located at 36 West Fillmore Street with a few residents still living in the 407 and 405 Harrison Street buildings, was experiencing nightly blackout. Native Petersburger Miss Mary Lemoine, through providential chance, met Mrs. James Gilliam, co-executrix of the estate of Mrs. Margaret Hoge Reavis DeRohan. This happenstance meeting during the lunch hour of a local tearoom in Petersburg proved to be milestone moment in the history of Petersburg Home for Ladies.
Margaret Hoge Reavis DeRohan was a native of Amelia County, with a beautiful estate that overlooked the campus of Sweet Briar College in Amherst County. She was married on three different occasions and dynamically loyal to her elderly mother. Upon her passing, Mrs. Hoge Reavis DeRohan willed her estate, only after her mother’s death, to be entirely distributed to a home for elderly woman. Mrs. James Gilliam was in search of such a place, discussing it with colleagues over lunch, when Miss Mary Lemoine was bold enough to share the story of Petersburg Home for Ladies.
Unannounced, Mrs. Gilliam and her associates visited the Fillmore Street Campus of Petersburg Home for Ladies. So impressed were they, that a unanimous recommendation was made to distribute the estate’s wealth and contents to Petersburg Home for Ladies above all others. Later on Mrs. Gilliam would become a Board Member of Petersburg Home for Ladies. From the estate donation, many items were initially sold, while others were retained until they were beyond reasonable repair.
This full-length portrait of Mrs. Margaret Hoge Reavis DeRohan hangs on the wall in the Rose Room of Petersburg Home for Ladies. Presumably painted under the artist surname “Richardson Fietry”, the story goes that this work was originally created in France around the year 1910.