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April 01, 2017

It has been said that behind every successful man is a good, strong woman.  And that is certainly true in several cases in and around Martinsville and Henry County.  It is fitting that a few of these women are mentioned due to the fact that last month was Women’s History Month, but we continue to feel their contributions to the community every day.  Not too many people would remember that Bessie Stultz Strickler was the one and only female sheriff in Henry County.  Bessie was born in Martinsville, Virginia in 1895 to Benjamin Franklin and Sallie Townes Stultz. The wife of Roy McKinley Strickler, she became the Sherriff of Henry County in 1924 when she was asked to fill the position when her father, who was the Sherriff at that time, passed away.  Sherriff Strickler served in this position until 1926.  She died at the age of 74 in Danville, Virginia.

Sallie Cook Booker was born on August 28, 1857 in Franklin County to Samuel Shrewsbury Cook and Mildred Dawson Cook.  At the age of sixteen, she began a career in education as a classroom teacher.  She attended the Piedmont Institute in Franklin County which at that time was a school only for young ladies.  Sallie Cook married Jesse Wooten Booker in 1877 and they moved to Martinsville early in their marriage.  Together they had a large family of seven children, four boys and three girls.  Between her duties as a mother and her teaching jobs, she attended both the State Teacher’s College in Farmville and the University of Virginia.  She spent twenty-five years in the field of education, with Shady Grove in Martinsville being one of the schools in which she taught.  Sallie was also very active in her community being involved in many organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and was a member of the First Methodist Church.  At the age of sixty-nine, Sallie Booker was elected to represent Martinsville and the County of Henry in the Virginia General Assembly in 1925 and served for two terms.  She was one of the first women to ever serve in the State’s legislative body and was highly respected by all of her colleagues.  After her retirement, she remained in Martinsville in a house located on East Church Street until her death at the age of 87.

Nancy Pocahontas Hundley Bassett, the daughter of Captain Hiram B. Hundley and Martha Ann Edwards Hundley, was born on November 21, 1862 in the small town of Bassett on the Hundley family farm.  She attended public schools in Henry County and eventually became a classroom teacher accepting a job at Grave’s Knob near the family’s farm.  One of her students, four years younger, was a man by the name of John David Bassett.  Mr. Bassett was known to say that she was the smartest woman he had ever met and he valued her opinion on pretty much everything.  They were married on December 17, 1893 and had four children.  Mrs. Bassett helped run the family grocery store and later became the bookkeeper of her husband’s new saw milling business.  It is believed that she is the one who suggested that the family go into the furniture making business.  Mrs. Bassett was very missionary minded and after joining the Missionary Baptist Church of Martinsville decided there needed to be a Missionary Baptist Church in Bassett which she and her husband founded in 1905.  In 1940, the couple founded the Pocahontas Bassett Baptist Church which still stands today on land given by J.D. and “Miss Pokey”.  Family history states that when Mr. Bassett sent his family to Florida due to a flu epidemic, Mrs. Bassett saw a great need for a grocery store there and so Mr. Bassett built one.  Nancy Pocahontas Bassett died on January 11, 1953.

“I salute the Flag of Virginia with reverence and patriotic devotion to the ‘Mother of States and Statesmen’ which it represents – the ‘Old Dominion’ where Liberty and Independence were born.”  These words were written by Cassye Bonner Gravely in 1954 and were adopted as the Official Salute to the Virginia Flag, unanimously passed by both House and Senate, and signed by Governor Thomas B. Stanley.  Cassye was born in 1874 in Henry County to Benjamin Franklin and Mary J. Steagall Gravely.  She moved with her family to Martinsville in 1887 where she met her husband Thomas Eleanor Gravely.  Being a very active member of her community, Cassye was a faithful member of the First Methodist Church in Martinsville and was a charter member of the Woman’s Society of Christian Service.  Among many lifetime accolades, she was elected Honorary President of the Virginia Division United Daughters of the Confederacy as well as Honorary President of the Mildred Lee Chapter having served as the historian for thirty years.

Henry County and Martinsville have produced many great female contributors to society – ranging from politics to masterminds of the world of business.  You never know if the next little girl that you pass on the street or seated in front of your pew in church may be the next CEO of her own company or President of the United States!

Fran Snead










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