Virginia “Ginny” Bulkley Whitehill, best-known as a champion of women’s rights and civic activist, was born on July 9, 1928, in New Rochelle, New York, to Harold Frush Bulkley, an executive with Union Carbide, and Myrtle (Bales) Bulkley, a community activist and early suffragist. She grew up in the New Rochelle/Pelham Manor area of New York with her younger brother Jon. Influenced by the Chautauqua movement and her mother’s emphasis on the importance of education, Ginny was the first member of her immediate family to graduate from college. She majored in American history at Mount Holyoke College and graduated in 1950.
After graduating from college Ginny Bulkley married and had two daughters: Patricia and Margaret. In 1957 her marriage ended, and she went to work for the Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization that served as an influence on her later civic activities. A few years later she reconnected with a high school acquaintance, James Whitehill. The couple married in 1960 in New York and then relocated to Dallas, Texas.
Although active in a number of groups, Whitehill’s passion was women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, and civic responsibility. One of the first organizations Ginny Whitehill volunteered with after moving to Dallas was Planned Parenthood. She worked as a clinic worker and later served as a board member. For Whitehill, one of the most important innovations in the twentieth century for women was the ability to control how many children they had with birth control. In 1957 she wrote, “Motherhood must cease to be the only road to glory for women. Other avenues of creativity, fulfillment and self-realization must be opened to them.” Later, Whitehill decided that “the two emancipators of women were the vote and birth control, the ability to control your fertility.”
After attending a presentation on abortion given to the Women’s Alliance of the Dallas Unitarian Church, Whitehill founded the Dallas Committee to Study Abortion in 1969. The group held their first official meeting in February 1970 and renamed themselves the Texas Citizens for Motherhood by Choice (later Texas Abortion Action Rights League [TARAL]) that same year. The group met to discuss legislation involving women’s reproductive rights. Campaigning in 1971 for a more liberal state abortion law, Whitehill pointed out that laws prohibiting abortion discriminated against women with lesser means. She argued that a “woman with financial resources” could already make arrangements for an abortion, a luxury that was “not available to her poorer sister.” For Whitehill, a watershed moment in her career came in 1971 when she attended the oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States hearing Roe v. Wade at the request of Sarah Weddington, the young lawyer representing the case’s petitioner.
Virginia Whitehill founded or co-founded a number of organizations, including The Family Place (Dallas’s first shelter for battered women), Dallas Women’s Coalition, Women’s Equity Action League, Women’s Issues Network (WIN), Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Dallas Summit, Texans for Motherhood by Choice (later TARAL), Women’s Equity Action League (Dallas), Dallas Area Woman’s Political Caucus, Veteran Feminists of America (Dallas), and Women’s Southwest Federal Credit Union. She served on the boards of Planned Parenthood of Dallas, the Women’s Center of Dallas, YWCA Women’s Resource Center, Archives of Women of the Southwest at SMU’s DeGlolyer Library, League of Women Voters of Dallas, Women’s Funding Network, and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). In addition to founding organizations and sitting on numerous advisory and planning boards, Whitehill also chaired fundraising efforts, organized campaigns and events, made presentations, and promoted women’s issues.
Her volunteerism and philanthropic work earned numerous accolades, including Planned Parenthood’s Champion of Choice Award, the Women’s Center of Dallas’s Women Helping Women Maura Award, Mount Holyoke College Distinguished Alumna Award, the Women’s Council of Dallas County’s Distinguished Service Award, and the League of Women Voters of Dallas’s Myrtle Bulkley Award for Outstanding Service (named after Whitehill’s mother, who had moved to Dallas in 1972). In 2000 the Texas Women’s Chamber of Commerce named Whitehill a Woman of the Century. In 2014 Whitehill was one of the activists featured in the award-wining feminist documentary film She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.
Virginia Whitehill died on September 15, 2018. She was survived by her two daughters, a granddaughter, her brother Jon, and two nephews. Her husband preceded her in death. Her body was donated to the University of Texas Health Science Center for scientific research, as was her mother’s before her.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Dallas Morning News, September 16, 2018. Veteran Feminists of America 2010: Virginia Whitehill (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26_WAp-e0eY), accessed February 10 2021. Virginia Whitehill Clippings Collection, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. Virginia Whitehill Papers, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. Virginia Whitehill Women's and Children's Rights Collection, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Activism and Social Reform
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
Texas Post World War II
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
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“Whitehill, Virginia Bulkley [Ginny],”
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