By Gayle Converse and Pat Miller
Alexandria women have played a prominent role in helping the city survive a history of contagious disease outbreaks. Here is a sample of extraordinary times during which the extraordinary women of Alexandria made a name for themselves.
While a great number of Alexandrians moved away from the waterfront in search of healthier surroundings during the yellow fever pandemic of 1800, many mothers, daughters, wives and sisters stayed behind to care for their families and neighbor.
Aware that the illness had killed more than 6,000 residents in cities like Baltimore, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, Virginia Governor James Monroe mandated a quarantine for the Commonwealth’s port cities. Monroe feared the disease could literally be shipped up the Potomac to the thriving anchorage of Alexandria from entry ports like Norfolk.
Almost a century later, when a sailor arrived at Alexandria’s port with typhoid fever, fears of a potential epidemic prompted Julia Johns and an all-female board of trustees to establish the Alexandria Infirmary in 1872 at the corner of Duke and South Fairfax streets. The Infirmary later became the Alexandria Hospital. Following several location changes, it is today part of the INOVA Health System.
1918 influenza pandemic
Alexandrian Dr. Kate Waller Barrett opened her home to returning World War I troops suffering not only the wounds of war but also from the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Alexandria’s women are honoring the tradition of our city’s past heroines by serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To honor the brave women of today, during a March 29 awards program five local women were chosen to receive the Celebrate Women Award. The virtual event benefited the Alexandria Domestic Violence Safe House – a temporary residence for women and their families – many of whom have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Below are the Alexandria Celebrates Women 2021 award winners:
As custodial supervisor of the Alexandria Library, Patricia Amaya’s job has become more complicated over the past year – requiring rigorous cleaning of library branches in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
When the library first closed to the public, Amaya took in donations of fabric, purchased additional supplies and volunteered to coordinate the library’s mask-making initiative. The results have been washable face masks that have been dispersed among library staff and to Volunteer Alexandria.
Offering her language and customer service skills at the city’s point of distribution sites, Amaya has also assisted community members seeking COVID-19 testing and those waiting to make vaccine appointments.
Gaynelle Bowden Diaz
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaynelle Bowden Diaz, director of resident and community services for the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, has worked to guarantee ARHA residents receive updated COVID-19 testing and vaccination information.
In addition to assisting with vaccine registration and appointments, Diaz ensures residents have access to masks as well as cleaning products, toiletries, hand sanitizer and food. She works with donating organizations to refer residents for groceries and other items.
Anne Gaddy leads the Alexandria Health Department’s incident command structure. Anne’s oversight of all AHD COVID-19 response activities – including the department’s vaccine team — has resulted in tens of thousands of vaccinations so far.
She manages vaccine inventory and has developed critical systems to plan and organize the clinic events, working 12 to 16-hour days, seven days a week.
Gaddy has developed procedures and managed teams to handle all details, ensuring that residents have the safest and best experience possible in a time of unprecedented fear and concern. With the recent retirement of former AHD Director Stephen Haering, Gaddy will now serve as the acting director of the entire department.
While welcoming Korean War veterans’ Honor Flights, collecting personal protective equipment and gathering COVID-19 supplies for local police departments, Gee-Hyun McNease has contributed her time to organizations operating in and around Alexandria.
Employed at the Defense Logistics Agency during the COVID-19 pandemic, McNease submitted her name for deployment to support military forces operating in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. As part of a team that serves as the nation’s combat logistics support, McNease was responsible for managing the global supply chain for U.S. troops and coordinating COVID-19 vaccines for all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Department of Defense civilians operating in the Middle East.
In addition to her work as chief fiscal officer for the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office, Cicely Woodrow volunteers for numerous nonprofits.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, she began collecting donations of housewares and performing contactless food deliveries for the Lazarus House. In January, as soon as the call was issued for volunteers to help administer the vaccine, Woodrow was there to help.
Woodrow’s efforts during the pandemic include recognizing and thanking those working at the William Truesdale Detention Center, where deputies, health care workers, food service personnel and civilians perform essential work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
During present and past public health emergencies, Alexandria’s women have displayed courage, strength, determination and compassion – they are indeed extraordinary women in extraordinary times.
The writers are founders of Alexandria Celebrates Women, a nonprofit that is highlighting influential women throughout the city’s history. Contact them at AlexandriaCelebrates Women@gmail.com.