Five Influential Women from the Tidewater region
As Women’s History Month comes to an end, we thought it was only fitting to acknowledge and recognize some of the most influential women from the Tidewater region. In no particular order, let’s appreciate not only these women, but where they come from.
Gymnast—Douglas was born in Newport News, Virginia, on December 31, 1995. She grew up in the area until her family relocated to Ohio when she was 14 years old. Douglas began doing gymnastics at just six years old and had her first state championship under her belt by the age of eight. She would go on to earn three Olympic gold medals—which includes the title of Women’s Olympic 2012 All-Around Gymnast and was a part of the U.S. women’s gold-winning gymnastics team during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Jazz Singer—Famously dubbed the “First Lady of Song” and “Queen of Jazz,” musical legend Ella Fitzgerald hails from Newport News, Virginia. Throughout her career—which spanned over 60 years—Fitzgerald acquired 14 Grammys (one of which is the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H.W. Bush, and the National Medal of Arts. Her legacy lives on in the area through the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center, which features a 276-seat venue named the Ella Fitzgerald Theatre.
Rapper/Singer/Songwriter/Producer —Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Missy Elliott is a woman of many talents and known for being a rapper, singer, songwriter, producer and dancer. Elliott has won four Grammys in addition to many other accolades, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Elliott is clearly proud of her roots—in 2019, she returned to the area to surprise students at Woodrow Wilson High School, her alma mater, and donated $25,000 to the school to use where they see fit.
Comedian/Actor—Wanda Sykes is an Emmy award-winning actress, stand-up comedian and writer. She also happens to be from Portsmouth, Virginia. Sykes was first recognized for her work as a writer on The Chris Rock Show, which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award in 1999. Since then, she has gone on to be nominated for another 14 Primetime Emmys and most notably just hosted the 2022 Oscars.
Printer/Publisher—Clementina Rind is known for being the first female printer and publisher in Virginia. Rind’s birthdate and place remain unknown, but she lived and worked in what is now known as Colonial Williamsburg. Rind took over her husband’s printing business after his death in 1773. She maintained the Virginia Gazette as a nonpartisan newspaper that also featured articles with a special interest in science, education and philanthropy. In 1774, Rind was elected by the General Assembly to be appointed as the Virginia Colony’s public printer and beat her male counterparts in a two-to-won margin.