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Sarah Lee Fain

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Succeeded by  Colgate Darden
Name  Sarah Fain
Spouse(s)  Walter Colquitt Fain
Died  California, United States

Education  University of Virginia
Religion  Episcopalian
Political party  Democratic Party
Full Name  Sarah Lee Odend'hal
Born  May 23, 1877 Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. (1877-05-23)

Alma mater  University of Virginia

Sarah Lee Odend'hal Fain (November 23, 1888 – July 20, 1962) was a schoolteacher and politician from Virginia. With Helen Timmons Henderson, in 1923 she was one of the first two women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and to the Virginia General Assembly as a whole.

Life and career

Sarah Lee Odend'hal was a Norfolk native, and was educated locally at Leache-Wood Seminary (founded by Irene Leache (1839-1900) and Anna Cogswell Wood (1850-1940)) and Hemmingway High School, graduating from the latter in 1907. She then embarked on a teaching career, spending twelve years in the city's public schools as both a teacher and administrator, while taking summer courses through the University of Virginia. The University did not directly offer diplomas to women, but the work she did in her summer courses provided her with the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in education and administration. Odend'hal married Walter Colquitt Fain on September 8, 1917, and began a career in civic life shortly thereafter. As it was considered unusual at the time for a married woman to remain employed as a schoolteacher, she turned her attention to her husband's construction firm, for which she acted as secretary and treasurer. This led to her interest in public life, and she soon became active in organizations including the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the local Episcopal Church.

Fain's first volunteer activity came when she supported the American Red Cross and sold Liberty bonds to support the American effort in World War I. This sparked her interest in public life, and when the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1920 she joined the local branch of the League of Women Voters and became active in local Democratic Party politics, although she had not previously been particularly known as a suffragist and had not joined the local branch of the Equal Suffrage League. It was her work for the reelection of Claude A. Swanson as United States Senator, in 1922, that led to her decision to run for a seat in the House of Delegates; Fain had been so successful at convincing female voters in Norfolk to vote for him that her friends suggested she try her hand at politics herself. Initially reluctant, she was soon persuaded; her husband served as her campaign manager and treasurer.

Fain was treated as something of a novelty upon her arrival in Richmond, but disappointed many observers with her actions. Rather than support a feminist agenda, as was feared by her detractors, she preferred instead to focus on the maritime and education issues popular with her constituents. On January 8 it was she who seconded the nomination of Richard L. Brewer, Jr. as Speaker of the Virginia House; it was recorded that she received over a minute's worth of applause and cheers when recognized from the floor, and she was the delegate chosen to formally introduce Brewer to members of the party upon his election. She was one of three delegates chosen to formally introduce Governor E. Lee Trinkle to the House, and was accorded the honor of hers being the first bill put into the hopper for the session.

In 1925 Fain was the first female legislator in the South to win reelection, and she won a third term in 1927; in her last session she chaired the Committee on Schools and Colleges, of which she had been a member from her first term. During this session she served with three other women, Sallie C. Booker, Nancy Melvina Caldwell, and Helen Ruth Henderson; the latter, elected in 1927, was the daughter of her former colleague. Rather than seek a fourth term in 1929, she chose to run for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, but she was unsuccessful. Between sessions she served as secretary, treasurer, and chief executive of her husband's furniture factory, a role which she had discharged since 1924.

In 1931 Fain and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., where she received a number of appointments supporting New Deal programs; she worked for the National Emergency Council, and served as the first chief of the United States Information Service, in whose creation she assisted. She held other federal positions in North Carolina and Texas before moving to San Marino, California in 1938. She did not run for public office again, but returned to Norfolk to support Meeta B. Meyers in 1951, when the latter ran unsuccessfully for Fain's former seat. Otherwise she remained in California until her death. The City of Norfolk would not elect another woman to the General Assembly until Evelyn Momsen Hailey in 1973.

Fain and her husband, who survived her, are both buried in Norfolk's Elmwood Cemetery. Fain was honored as one of the first group of Virginia Women in History in 2000.


Sarah Lee Fain Wikipedia