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Making a difference
Kate Waller Barrett of Stafford County earned an international reputation for her humanitarian efforts in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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Date published: 6/23/2001


She had come to New York City to second the nomination of her state's favorite son, Carter Glass, for the presidency.

But when it came time for her to address the convention near the end of a tiring afternoon, she cast aside her notes and, according to one account, "poured out her ideas and her message in a brief, spirited and extemporaneous speech which obviously came direct from the heart."

She praised the men being considered as the party's nominees. She chided the delegates for some earlier criticism of Wall Street. She expressed pride in Virginia's history and political heritage. And she spoke glowingly of Glass.

Maybe it wasn't so much what she said as how she said it. But the impact of her speech seems clear.

Her remarks "roused the jaded delegates like an electric current," according to the account. And when she finished, "they rose in a great ovation, forcing her to return and bow her acknowledgments again and again."

The moment was so powerful, in fact, that a delegate from New Jersey stepped to the microphone and in a spontaneous gesture nominated the speaker--Dr. Kate Waller Barrett of Stafford County--for the office of vice president.

One newspaper editorial, published a few days later, stated: "If women had been granted political equality 20 years ago, it is not inconceivable that Dr. Kate Waller Barrett would have been president of the United States. There are few persons who possess a greater personal appeal than does Dr. Barrett, as witness the remarkable ovation she received at the Democratic Convention."

This brief excursion into politics--as dramatic as it sounds--represents only a thread in the remarkable tapestry that is the life of Katherine Harwood Waller Barrett, who always preferred "Kate" and never lost touch with her roots in the rural Widewater section of Stafford.

From her childhood experiences during the Civil War, to her work with society's outcasts in the slums of Richmond and Atlanta, to her appearances at the royal courts of Europe, Barrett was driven by her compassion, persistence and a desire to broaden her perspective.

Add to those attributes her gifts as an orator, her boundless energy and her organizational skills, and it is easy to understand how Barrett became one of the most respected women of her day.

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