Virginia in the 20th Century

Transition from Rural to Urban

During the twentieth century and beyond, Virginia changed from a rural, agricultural society to a more urban, industrialized society.

Changes in Agriculture:

  • Mechanization (the use of machines like tractors) made farming more efficient

  • Improvements in transportation made it easier to transport harvested crops

Growth of Virginia’s Cities:

  • People moved from rural to urban areas for more opportunities

  • Better transportation (roads, railroads, and streetcars) helped cities grow

  • Coal mining helped Virginia grow

  • During the twentieth century, Northern Virginia experienced growth due to the number of government jobs in the region

  • In the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, Northern Virginia has grown due to computer technology

  • Virginia’s population has become more diverse as people have moved to the state from many other states and countries

Women's Suffrage and the Great Depression

Women’s Suffrage:

  • The United States Constitution was amended in 1920 to give women the right to vote

  • Maggie L. Walker was an African American leader from Virginia who supported equal rights for women

The Great Depression:

  • The Great Depression was a period of bad economic conditions during the 1930s

  • Many Virginians lost their jobs, farms, homes, and businesses

  • The federal government established New Deal programs to provide employment and help the people

  • With the New Deal, the federal government took on a larger role in the daily lives of Virginians


Terms to Know:

  • Segregation: the separation of people, usually based on race or religion

  • Desegregation: the legal end of racial segregation

  • Integration: full equality of people of all races in the use of public facilities and services

After World War II, African Americans demanded equal treatment. As a result of the Civil Rights Movement, laws were passed that made racial discrimination illegal.

Desegregation and Massive Resistance in Virginia:

  • Barbara Johns, a high school student in Virginia, led a student strike against segregation in 1951

  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional

  • All public schools, including those in Virginia, were ordered to desegregate

  • Virginia’s government established a policy of Massive Resistance, which fought to resist the desegregation of public schools

  • Some schools were closed to avoid desegregation

  • The policy of Massive Resistance failed, and Virginia’s public schools were finally integrated

Important Individuals:

  • Maggie L. Walker was the first African American woman in the United States to establish a bank and become a bank president

  • Harry F. Byrd, Sr., as governor of Virginia, modernized the Virginia state government

  • Oliver W. Hill, Sr., a lawyer and civil rights leader, worked for equal rights of African Americans and played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education decision

  • Arthur R. Ashe, Jr., was the first African American winner of a major men’s tennis singles championship and also advocated for change

  • A. Linwood Holton, Jr., as governor of Virginia, promoted racial equality and appointed many African Americans and women to positions in state government

  • L. Douglas Wilder, as governor of Virginia, was the first African American to be elected a state governor in the United States

Branches of Government

The Virginia state government is made up of three parts (branches).

The Legislative Branch:

  • Also called the General Assembly

  • It makes state laws

  • It is divided into two parts—the Senate and the House of Delegates

The Executive Branch:

  • The governor is the head of the executive branch of the state government

  • It makes sure that state laws are carried out

The Judicial Branch:

  • The state’s court system

  • It decides cases about people accused of breaking the law and whether or not a law agrees with Virginia’s constitution

Virginia's Products and Industries

Available resources, as well as geography, are major factors in what is produced in the state.

Top Products and Services for Virginia:

  • Architecture and engineering

  • Banking and lending

  • Computer programming and systems design

  • Food products

  • Shipbuilding

Top Manufactured Products in Virginia:

  • Ships

  • Tobacco products

  • Beverages

  • Chemical goods

  • Motor vehicle parts and trucks

Livestock and Crop Products:

  • Chickens, cows, milk, turkeys, and pigs

  • Soybeans, corn, tobacco, tomatoes, apples, and peanuts

Access to ports, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean make shipbuilding, fishing, crabbing, and oyster harvesting possible.

Virginia’s transportation system, which includes highways, railroads, air transportation, and shipping, moves raw materials to factories and finished products to markets.