Virginia Changemakers
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Grace Arents (1848 - 1926)

VWH 2004 Arents.jpg






Born in New York City, Grace Arents graduated from Rutgers Female College in 1867 and moved in the 1870s to an affluent Richmond neighborhood, where she lived with her maternal uncle Lewis Ginter. One of Virginia's wealthiest tobacco manufacturers, he left his extensive estate to his nephews and nieces, including Arents. A philanthropist like her uncle, she instituted and improved many local social and educational programs. She financed numerous projects, including new facilities for Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, in the Oregon Hill neighborhood. She built a public bath near the church and established the city's first free-circulating library. Arents allocated funds in her will to maintain the operation of the library by the Saint Andrew's Association, of which she had been a cofounder and director.

In 1901, Arents underwrote the construction of Saint Andrew's School, which she endowed with the rent proceeds from homes she had built nearby. She also donated funds and a city lot for a new public elementary school. She supported the Instructive Visiting Nurses Association, which provided health care for poor residents. Among her many other charities was a hospital for poor children at Bloemendaal, her uncle's property in Henrico County. After the hospital was no longer needed, Arents lived her last decade there and turned the small farm into a model for Virginia farmers and gardeners. She intended the property to become a botanical garden, and the trust she created for it amounted to $2.6 million by 1981. Today it is the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, a major horticultural center in Virginia.

2004 Virginia Women in History honoree, Virginia Foundation for Women.

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Image Courtesy of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.