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The histories behind the Federation

Honoring the Pioneers:

A brief history of Virginia Press Women and Virginia Professional Communicators

The year is 2060 A.D. You are a young college student, passionate about writing, public relations, history and free speech. You've traveled to the Virginia Media Center. It used to be called The Library of Virginia, long ago, when libraries consisted of collections of books. You've studied that in history, and heard your great grandparents talk about them. Everything is different now.

purple jagged-edged circle with text 80 years in black and in white, around the edge above 80, dates of the orgnization.

You visit the archives, that magical place where items from long ago are kept. There are things you don't see much anymore: books, magazines, photographs on paper, and your favorite thing—newspapers.

You find that back in the year 1958 newspapers were plentiful. You also find that the career opportunities for women in newspapers were starkly different than those for men. You find that men wrote the "hard news," but women were assigned to write the "social" stories—fundraising events, weddings, anniversaries, food, decorating and fashion. Employment ads were segregated, too: "Help wanted—male" and "Help wanted—female."

There were enough feisty women in Virginia to rebel. They wanted demanding careers, equal recognition and a fair shot at seats in the courtrooms, the legislatures, the governors' press conferences and the editors' desks. They did something to make it happen. They started a new organization, and they called it "Virginia Press Women."

In the late 1950s, they organized a statewide conference, and two each year after that. By the year 2017, the group had held about 120 conferences in various parts of the state: Richmond, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Roanoke, Norfolk, Farmville, Lexington, and other places, too. The conferences have been filled with continuing education, recognition for awards and socializing.

They recognized that their members were so talented, they should be recognized with annual awards for writing, photography, editing and many other categories. Recognition expanded to include "Press Woman of the Year," also known as "Woman of Distinction," which evolved to "Communicator of Achievement." VPW also started a "Distinguished Service Award."

These contest winners and award winners would be doubly honored, because Virginia Press Women enjoyed its affiliate relationship with the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW), which included chartered affiliates from other states. Virginia Press Women has always been actively engaged with NFPW, as many award winners advanced to national recognition and national leadership. On many occasions, Virginia Press Women took the coveted "Sweepstakes" award, given to the state that wins the most award points.

Virginia Press Women officers have always been inspiring women with a gift of leadership. Ulrich Troubetzkoy served as president of NFPW from 1967 to 1969. Cynthia Price went from the VPW presidency (2004-2006) to serve as NFPW president (2009-2011). Other national notables are in the area of "Communicator of Achievement." Louise Seals, who was one of a handful of female managing editors at one time, and Cynthia Price both won the national honor. Bonnie Atwood was a runner up.

Another major Virginia Press Women recognition is "Newsmaker of the Year." That title goes to the person (or group) with ties to Virginia and who has done something to make significant news in the past year. The list of honorees is long and impressive. Records go back to 1969, when Ann H. Kilgore, the mayor of Hampton, was chosen. Many of the winners have been active in politics, but winners have also come from philanthropy (Patricia Kluge, Doris Buffett), the arts (Daphne and Tim Reid, Susan Greenbaum), the military (Lt. Paula Coughlin, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, Brig. Gen. Gail M. Reals), entrepreneurs (Lillian Vernon, Rowena Fullinwider), religion (Virginia's women priests), and, of course, writers (Patricia Cornwell, Nikki Giovanni). A clear favorite was Big Stone Gap's native daughter, Adriana Trigiani. And a famous international star was honored in 1978: Elizabeth Taylor.

The high school writing contest was introduced in 1982. Ten years later, a scholarship was initiated and named for the inimitable Alice Cooke of Northern Neck. She was a founding member, former president and a journalistic force with which to be reckoned.

Being a group of writers, VPW has always provided a newsletter, cleverly titled, "Galley Pruf." The group compiled a cookbook in 1964, which can be found in the Library of Virginia. A big milestone was the creation of a website.

All of these milestones were achieved under the name Virginia Press Women. However, looking toward a more inclusionary message, the group formally changed its name in 2014. The organization is now called "Virginia Professional Communicators."

The college student looking at the history files could not help but notice one more thing: the group had fun. It was not all business. They held socials, tours, parties, golf games and wine tastings. That was Virginia Press Women. That is Professional Communicators.