Grace Arents

Even during her lifetime, Grace Evelyn Arents was known as “the Angel of Oregon Hill,” in the Richmond, Virginia neighborhood that was most blessed by her philanthropic work.  Although she never married or bore children of her own, Miss Grace’s care for hundreds of other people’s children was a Christian duty she joyfully embraced.  Her forward-thinking influence on the city remains profound, as is the gratitude of those who benefit from her generosity and prophetic vision nearly 90 years after her death.        

The youngest of four children, Grace and her mother left their home in New York City during the 1870’s to live with her mother’s brother, Major Lewis Ginter.  Although Grace already had accomplished much for the working poor of the city, her ability to do so increased dramatically with her 1897 inheritance from Lewis Ginter.  A voracious reader and trained nurse, she improved living conditions for those less fortunate than herself through instruction about academic subjects, employment skills, healthy living and Christianity.  She funded the construction and operation of the city’s first public library, a night school for adults, a day school for children, a home for the schools’ teachers, a playground, public baths for residents of homes without indoor plumbing, the Richmond Chapter of the Instructive Visiting Nurses Association, homes for Oregon Hill families, and three churches.  Many of these projects and buildings still serve the people of Richmond, several of which are supported by the organization Miss Grace established to continue her benevolent and charitable work, the St. Andrew’s Association.            

Grace Arents also loved God’s creation.  Botanical studies were a personal hobby as well as part of the curriculum in her schools.  At Bloemendaal, the home she first used as a hospital to provide a healthy environment for children recovering from illness, she experimented with landscaping, vegetable gardens, and grew a variety of plants and trees previously unknown in the area.  The few pictures that remain of Miss Grace often show her in natural settings, observing some new botanical specimen, or reading a book.            

Often described as unassuming, humble, shy, quiet and unostentatious, Miss Grace was more known for her strength of character, keen mind and steely will by those who worked with her and for her on the projects she funded and organized.  Correspondence demonstrates that Miss Grace was an astute business woman who supervised the spending of her money closely and wisely. Public praise was something she clearly avoided when possible and endured when necessary.  A 1905 article from the local Times newspaper states: “No one who has ever met her has failed to be impressed with the modesty and unassuming manner of this lady, who is doing so much for Richmond…when some one who has the tender heart and will and the way to help those who travel along more slowly and painfully than the rest, all turn for a moment and look upon the giver and the gift and do not begrudge the simple word of praise…One has but to talk with any one who lives within the uplifting influence of her word for a moment to understand how well she is loved for what she has and is doing for those among whom she labors with thought and means.”  

                                    - Karen Salter