Virginia Changemakers
Search using this query type:

Search only these record types:

Advanced Search (Items only)

Florence Farley (1928 - 2022)



Roanoke and Petersburg


Pyschologist, Educator, Elected Official, Artist


A native of Roanoke, Florence Saunders Farley (1928-2022) earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) in 1950. After completing her degree, she entered the Women's Army Corps, where she became a second lieutenant and the first African American female training officer at Fort Lee, Virginia. In 1955, she married Richard Farley.

After leaving the military, Saunders completed her master's degree in psychology at Virginia State, and is believed to be the first clinically licensed African American psychologist in Virginia, and perhaps the first African American to serve as staff psychologist at the Central State Hospital, an institution then serving an all-black clientele. Saunders later became chief psychologist at the institution.

In 1962 Farley joined the faculty at Virginia State and served for several years as the chair of the Department of Psychology. She is now retired. Farley completed her PhD at Kent State University in 1977.

Farley began her political career in 1973 when she became the first woman elected to the Petersburg City Council and a member of Virginia's first majority black city council. She won reelection in 1978 and 1982. In 1984, after the resignation of Mayor R. Wilson Cheely, Farley became the first female mayor of Petersburg and the first African American woman to become mayor of a Virginia city.

Farley has continued to be active in the Petersburg community, serving from 2002 to 2006 on the Petersburg School Board, and for a period holding the post of vice chair. She has also received acclaim as a textile artist, exhibiting her needlework at libraries and museums across the state.

UPDATE: Florence Farley died on August 28, 2022.

2010 African American Trailblazers honoree, Library of Virginia.

File Citation(s)

Image Courtesy of Florence Farley.