Virginia Marsden Black

Starting life in Oregon and growing up in San Diego, Virginia Marsden was the daughter of James Marsden and Alice Goodrich. Her parents owned the Denrich Press. Virginia liked music and art, and she joined a women’s rowing club, which may have been a feminist statement during the suffragette era. When she attended the University of California at Berkeley, she emphasized art study. While there she was the art editor of the Blue and Gold yearbook, a member of the women’s art honor society, and a pledge of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. In 1917 she changed her life dramatically by marrying fellow student Hollis M. Black, whose family had built a large mountain ranch outside Cloverdale with access from River Road. The ranch received electric power for lights only in 1935. Virginia learned to cook, clean, tend the garden, and also help her husband as “a darn good cow hand.” The couple had two sons, Hollis Jr. and David Marsden, who Virginia took camping in the redwoods along the Navarro River up Highway 128. Mrs. Black didn’t give up her art or her writing, though. She painted portraits and landscapes, and later she painted murals at Fred Young Mortuary in Cloverdale and Healdsburg. In 1957 she had a solo art show at First National Bank at the corner of the boulevard and Second Street. What many remember her for, however, is her “farm life” short stories which appeared in national magazines such as Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s Magazine, Scribner’s, and the Atlantic Monthly. In the December 1935 Scribner’s, she recalled her experience learning how to grow turkeys in “Turkeys for Christmas.” And in December 1937, not only was “Coming Out Party” published, but also Virginia won a $400 fifth prize for this calf story in Scribner’s writing contest. Her interests went beyond their own ranch to winemaking history. For example, she wrote a feature article for the Reveille on Russian influence in the development of the Sonoma County wine industry. Local newspapers provide evidence of activities such as the Citizens’ Advisory Committee and a speech at the Woman’s Improvement Club in 1957. An article in the Geyserville Press recounted a minor auto accident she had in 1939 when driving alone on a mountain road. Smoke from a nearby brush fire blocked her visibility, and her car went off the road. During the war years their son David worked at Consolidated Aircraft Company in San Diego. And Hollis Jr., who had initially trained as a civil engineer and worked in Berkeley, moved to Dallas to attend the Dallas Theological Seminary, preparing to be a minister. This led to a tragic automobile accident when his parents were driving through Las Cruces, New Mexico on their way to visit him for Christmas in 1965. Both were killed on impact when their car ran into a culvert.

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Coming Out Party
Short stories and essays
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Published primarily in periodicals such as Scribner's and Saturday Evening Post.

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