The women on the 500-mile “Journey to Salem,” recreating the journey of a small group of women from Bethlehem, PA, to Winston-Salem, NC, which led to the founding of one of the oldest academic institutions for women in America, stopped in Leesburg on Tuesday.
Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem was founded in 1772 by Singler Sisters of the Moravian Church with, at the time, the revolutionary idea that women also deserve a rigorous education. This year, the boarding school and college celebrate their 250th anniversary with a series of events, including the Journey to Salem.
Their journey follows the historic route outlined in the 1766 journal of 16-year-old Salome Meurer, which recounts the journey of 18 women and two men. And according to that journal, the last time they came to Virginia, the group was not warmly welcomed. As a party of mostly women and as members of a minority religious group that faced prejudice in Virginia, they endured jeers and harassment during their time here, along with more serious incidents such as an attempted kidnapping.
Meurer’s journal, written originally in German, recounts the group’s arrival in Leesburg on Oct. 11. Translated by scholar Aaron S. Fogleman, she wrote: “The people all came out of their houses and said, ‘Where did you leave all of your men?’ Some said they thought we were a bunch of Zinzendorfers [a name used at the time for Moravians in Germany, often derogatory]. We would rather not have stayed too long in this country.”
Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk met this year’s walkers in front of the county courthouse with a resolution honoring their walk in an effort to patch up old wounds.
“It was just so awesome to us that the mayor wanted to make things better for our journey, and so that puts a spring in our step today,” said one of the walkers, Debbie Stansberry Faires.
And this time, she said, the Old Dominion has been very nice, complimenting the scenery on their walk down Old Waterford Road as they made their way south from the Potomac River.
The walk this year began on Sept. 28 and is planned to end on Oct. 26 in the Salem Square in Winston-Salem, NC. The walk will stop first at the Single Sisters’ original destination in Bethabara, NC.
“I began my time at Salem in its 200th year, and am so excited to be able to walk to celebrate not only my own history with the college, but my great-great-great grandmother’s as well, who was a resident of Halifax, County, Virginia, and was the 55th student to register at Salem Academy in 1804,” organizer Lee Coffman stated.