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Published March 20, 2023

In November 2019, we established the Rosel Schewel Fund, named to honor the vision and leadership of Virginia Humanities’ longest-serving board member. The mission of the Fund is to champion projects that tell the inclusive story of Virginia women, highlighting their ongoing contributions to our state’s history and culture.

Northern Virginia Rosel Shewel Fund Committee members held a discussion and book signing with author Margot Lee Shetterly in June 2021. Photo by Maansi Srivastava.

At that time, we shared our goal to grow the Rosel Schewel Fund to $500,000 by 2025. Today, we’re excited to announce we’ve reached that milestone goal for the Fund, which will yield $25,000-40,000 annually to support fellowships, grant projects, symposia, podcasts, residencies, author visits, and other humanities programs conceptualized and managed by women, or that address topics of importance to women’s history and cultural contributions in Virginia. 

To celebrate, we’re taking a look back at Rosel’s decades-long legacy of activism in Lynchburg and beyond as we prepare for the work ahead.


By Nina Wilder

Given how intertwined Rosel Schewel’s name has become with the Commonwealth of Virginia, you might be surprised to learn that she was born in Baltimore, Maryland, only moving to Lynchburg after she married her husband Elliot in her early 20s.

“I’m not sure you can ever become a Virginian if you didn’t grow up there,” mused Susan Schewel, one of Rosel’s three children. “We used to joke about that a lot. My mom certainly adopted it as her state wholeheartedly—as soon as she moved to Lynchburg, really.”

Eliot and Rosel Schewel. Photo courtesy the Schewel family.

Indeed, Rosel began making her mark on the state the moment she arrived and never quite stopped. Among her vast résumé of accomplishments: she founded the Lynchburg League of Women Voters in the 1950s and the Women’s Resource Center in the ’70s; she was the first woman to serve as president of the Agudath Sholom Congregation; at the University of Lynchburg, where she received her graduate degree, she held a faculty position, led numerous projects, and served on the Board of Trustees for 36 years.

“In addition to her work in education, Mom was always volunteering,” Susan said. “As long as I can remember, she was out and about in the community, taking on leadership roles.”

“To me, the purpose of the Fund is really about making visible all of the ways that women have contributed to Virginia’s history and culture.”

Susan Schewel

Maggie Guggenheimer, former director of advancement at Virginia Humanities, comes from a long line of Lynchburg natives. Growing up, she knew Rosel as a close friend to her grandmother Helen, who passed away when Maggie was in the sixth grade; later, she looked to Rosel to connect with her grandmother’s life and memory and cherished the stories of their feminist triumphs from decades past.

“Learning about Rosel’s impact on the Lynchburg community was meaningful for me because I sensed that if my grandmother had lived longer, she would have been a continued part of that work,” Maggie shared. “I was inspired to get to know the stories of the women who came before me.”

Susan and Rosel on a trip to India in 2015. Photo courtesy the Schewel family.

When she moved into her advancement position, this inspiration drove her to pioneer the Rosel Schewel Fund, building off of Rosel’s legacy to support projects that amplify women’s lived experiences across the Commonwealth.

“In today’s society, we’re not as connected to each other on a local level as we used to be,” Maggie said. “These stories about women like Rosel—and what they were able to accomplish—inspire us to find ways to keep that engagement alive.”

Although the shape of women’s issues has changed in many ways since Rosel’s heyday, her work underpins an enduring truth: Virginia women have had, and will continue to have, a profound impact on the Commonwealth we experience today, from its struggles to its triumphs and everything in between.

“To me, the purpose of the Fund is really about making visible all of the ways that women have contributed to Virginia’s history and culture,” Susan said. “In particular, any project that elevates the voices of historically marginalized women in Virginia would make mom really happy.”

“These stories about women like Rosel—and what they were able to accomplish—inspire us to find ways to keep that engagement alive.”

Maggie Guggenheimer

Maggie pointed to one of Rosel’s first civic engagements in Lynchburg to illustrate her enduring impact on the local community: As president of the local Girl Scout Council in the early ’50s, Rosel insisted that their new scout camp, Camp Sacajawea, allowed both Black and white attendees. Although she faced fierce opposition, she ultimately prevailed, and the camp was racially integrated.

“I actually went there as a child,” Maggie said. “I have vivid memories of sitting around the campfire, talking to counselors—and to think that Rosel helped make that experience something that wasn’t just for white kids… that’s important work.”


Northern Virginia Rosel Shewel Fund Committee members held a discussion and book signing with author Margot Lee Shetterly in June 2021. Photo by Maansi Srivastava.

Now that the Rosel Schewel Fund advisory committee has reached their $500,000 fundraising milestone, the committee will make their recommendation to the Virginia Humanities Board for a process to structure the fund’s allocation for programming. In this initial year that funds become available, the focus will be on a Rosel Schewel Fund Fellowship, to be awarded to a woman writer, artist, cultural worker, or community scholar working in and around the story of women in Virginia.

The fellowship will culminate in a public event and presentation, and the fellow’s work will be amplified through other Virginia Humanities’ platforms such as With Good Reason and Encyclopedia Virginia. The fellow may also have the opportunity to partner with the Virginia Center for the Book, the Virginia Festival of the Book, the Virginia Folklife Program, and the Office of Community Initiatives.

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.

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