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New school name choice is tough one
The naming of a new elementary school should not create divisiveness among Stafford residents.

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Date published: 10/1/2003


MARGARET BRENT probably would be amused that her name is still a topic of discussion in Stafford County.

After all, Brent died in 1671--332 years ago.

Her name is being mentioned these days in connection with the county's next elementary school. Some have suggested the school be named in her honor.

Why Margaret Brent?

First, she is recognized as the first woman lawyer in America. An award of the American Bar Association is named for Brent to honor her pioneering legal achievements.

Secondly, she had enormous land holdings in both Maryland and Virginia. Both Alexandria and Fredericksburg now sit on land once owned by Brent.

She rose to such a position of influence in Maryland that she demanded the state assembly grant her the right to vote in its proceedings. I guess that makes Brent the nation's first suffragist, as well.

And finally, Brent's Catholic family allowed people of all faiths to settle here, thus establishing one of the first instances of religious tolerance in Virginia.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Brent in 1993 as a "great lady" and closed her remarks with this anecdote:

"Her position as a woman, yet possessor of power, so confused her contemporaries that she was sometimes named in court records not as Mistress Margaret Brent, but as Gentleman Margaret Brent."

Brent lived in Stafford County from roughly 1650 to 1671. She is believed to be buried in Stafford, although there is no marked grave.

For all of these reasons and for generally showing Colonial America what a woman of intelligence and determination could accomplish, Brent is deserving of a monument in Stafford.

Sadly, the county School Board must now decide between Brent another Stafford role model, Sandy Freeby.

Freeby, a librarian at Winding Creek Elementary School, died suddenly last month at age 35.

By all accounts, she was a dedicated and respected educator who had a positive influence on all of her students and the larger Stafford community, as well.

Freeby's supporters make a strong case. She worked for Stafford County Schools for 13 years and represents a modern-day hero to students, parents and colleagues.

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