Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Volume 1: Aaroe-Blanchfield

Article excerpt

Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Volume 1: Aaroe-Blanchfield. Edited by JOHN T. KNEEBONE, J. JEFFERSON LOONEY, BRENT TARTER, and SANDRA GIOIA TREADWAY. DAPHNE GENTRY and DONALD W. GUNTER, Assistant Editors. Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998. iii, 557 pp. $49.95.

As a professor of Kentucky history, I have become accustomed to answering student questions with the response " . . . because that's the way it was done in Virginia." With the publication of the first volume in the Dictionary of Virginia Biography (DVB) series, it is apparent that the Old Dominion is again showing the way, not only to what was once its westernmost county but indeed to the entire nation. Put simply, the DVB is one of the most exciting and ambitious publication projects to be undertaken in the last half-century.

In a graceful introduction titled "Criteria for Inclusion," the editors explain how they went about the daunting task of determining which individuals would appear in the dictionary. Their paramount objective was to profile those Virginians "who, regardless of place of birth or death, made significant contributions to the history or culture of their locality, state, or nation." Almost without exception, "no person is included who did not live a significant portion of his or her life in Virginia" (p. vi), which encompasses the current geographical boundaries of the commonwealth, plus Kentucky and West Virginia prior to their statehoods in 1792 and 1863, respectively. Some individuals merited "automatic inclusion" by virtue of the political offices they held or the awards and honors they received. For example, one will find entries on all Virginia-born presidents of the United States; the governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general of the state; Virginia members of such bodies as the Continental Congress and the cabinets of the presidents of the United States and the Confederate States of America; federal judges residing in Virginia at the time of appointment; presidents of the state's major educational institutions; and winners of the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes who hailed from the Old Dominion.

The majority of the persons who appear in these pages, it should be emphasized, are not "automatic" entrants. For every lieutenant governor or Confederate army officer, there is an architect, community theater organizer, pediatrician, sculptor, or paper conservator. In sum, "they are Virginians whose lives and careers made them exceptional in their communities and professions" (p. vii). To determine which men and women merited profiles, the editors spent several years examining the available reference works and encyclopedias, most of which had appeared in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (such as Lyon Gardiner Tyler's five-volume Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, published in 1915). …