The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Florence Farley

Politician and university professor Florence Saunders Farley was born on May 28, 1928 in Roanoke, Virginia to Neoda and Stacious Saunders. She attended Harrison Elementary School in Roanoke. After graduating as the salutatorian of her class from Lucy Addison High School in 1946, Farley graduated from Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) with her B.S. degree in psychology and her M.S. degree in educational psychology in 1950 and 1954, respectively. In 1951, Farley was commissioned in the United States Women’s Army Corps (WAC) as a second lieutenant, and became the first African American female training officer at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Farley served as Chief Psychologist at Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, and was the first African American clinically licensed, by examination, psychologist in the state of Virginia. Farley then joined the faculty at Virginia State where she taught graduate and undergraduate students for over forty years and also served as the chair of the department of psychology. Farley obtained her Ph.D. degree in psychology in 1977 from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Farley also began her political career in 1973 when she was the first woman elected to the Petersburg City Council and became a member of Virginia’s first majority black city council. Farley won re-election in 1978 and 1982. In 1984, after the resignation of Mayor R. Wilson Cheely, Farley became the first female mayor of Petersburg and the first African American woman to become mayor of a Virginia city.

From 2002 to 2006, Farley served on the Petersburg School Board and held the post of vice chair during her time on the school board. Farley has also received acclaim as a textile artist, exhibiting her needlework in libraries and museums across the state. In 2010, Farley was recognized by The Library of Virginia as an “African American Trailblazer in Virginia History.” Farley maintains an independent psychology practice in Petersburg.

Florence Farley was interviewed was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 10, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.019

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/10/2012

Last Name

Farley

Middle Name

S.

Schools

Kent State University

Virginia State University

Harrison School

Lucy Addison High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Florence

Birth City, State, Country

Roanoke

HM ID

FAR06

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Casinos

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Virginia

Birth Date

5/28/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Petersburg

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans (Pinto)

Short Description

Visual artist, psychology professor, and mayor Florence Farley (1928 - ) was the first woman to be elected to a city council seat in Petersburg, Virginia and the first African American woman to become mayor of a Virginian city.

Employment

Virginia State University

Petersburg (Va.)

Women's Army Auxiliary Corps

Central State Hospital

Favorite Color

Pink

Timing Pairs
0,0:747,9:1909,42:7138,176:13530,279:13860,286:23140,442:28036,502:29071,520:30589,551:30865,556:34246,673:49491,851:50915,887:53478,901:68116,1083:68845,1094:69169,1099:70546,1124:75130,1153:75850,1195:79168,1233:79573,1239:80464,1252:84514,1329:86377,1362:87430,1379:87754,1384:88888,1401:96928,1453:97396,1461:101950,1512:102350,1518:104750,1548:105790,1563:107870,1603:110350,1659:115493,1691:115801,1696:118034,1728:118496,1735:121499,1802:121961,1809:122269,1814:130567,1905:133390,1919:139299,1983:139931,1998:141195,2023:141827,2034:148634,2139:152372,2191:163910,2370$0,0:800,20:1840,40:3040,60:7040,146:7360,151:10800,208:12320,290:19869,335:20760,396:21084,401:22542,427:26154,456:26569,462:27994,472:28379,478:32229,553:38076,668:38622,676:39012,682:39636,713:40182,721:40572,727:42600,792:45486,846:45876,852:46266,858:46578,863:55110,939:56510,969:56930,976:58820,1010:63160,1124:64140,1141:64700,1152:66100,1189:70340,1200:76643,1265:77820,1278:78783,1290:79211,1295:83664,1324:85932,1356:86337,1362:88767,1452:89172,1458:91602,1476:92088,1483:100888,1574:105400,1670:110584,1739:110968,1744:118120,1783:122232,1816:123365,1830:124086,1836:124807,1845:127955,1865:128480,1874:142684,2070:143316,2082:144422,2098:144817,2104:145212,2110:148970,2129:150330,2156:151290,2169:151690,2175:159050,2358:164545,2404:168172,2424:168916,2435:170497,2455:176821,2548:181238,2584:182894,2607:183538,2616:183906,2621:184550,2630:184918,2635:185562,2643:189865,2691:190205,2696:190545,2701:191225,2710:196410,2817:196835,2823:197345,2830:198790,2846:199300,2854:203870,2894:204255,2900:204717,2908:205410,2922:205718,2930:206719,2950:207874,2973:215652,3056:219864,3109:221646,3153:222051,3159:222456,3165:222861,3171:232540,3299:235005,3360:235430,3367:235940,3375:237750,3380
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Florence Farley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Florence Farley lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Florence Farley describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Florence Farley talks about the origin of her maternal relatives' names

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Florence Farley describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Florence Farley talks about her family's homeownership

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Florence Farley describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Florence Farley recalls her father's militant views of the South

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Florence Farley describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Florence Farley describes her relationship with her maternal grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Florence Farley talks about her community in Roanoke, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Florence Farley remembers the Harrison School in Roanoke, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Florence Farley talks about her academic experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Florence Farley remembers Lucy Addison High School in Roanoke, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Florence Farley remembers the segregated movie theaters in Roanoke, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Florence Farley talks about her favorite films

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Florence Farley describes her early interest in reading

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Florence Farley recalls her aspiration to attend college

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Florence Farley remembers her influential teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Florence Farley describes her graduation from Lucy Addison High School in Roanoke, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Florence Farley talks about Negro History Week at Lucy Addison High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Florence Farley recalls working part time at Burrell Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Florence Farley talks about the relocation of Virginia State College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Florence Farley describes her first impressions of Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Florence Farley recalls changing her major to psychology

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Florence Farley describes her favorite psychology professors

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Florence Farley talks about her job prospects after graduating from Virginia State College

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Florence Farley describes her social activities in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Florence Farley remembers the presidents of Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Florence Farley recalls teaching at the Bellevue School in Hollins, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Florence Farley recalls joining the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Florence Farley describes her experiences in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Florence Farley recalls her master's degree program at Virginia State College

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Florence Farley remembers Vernon Johns, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Florence Farley remembers Vernon Johns, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Florence Farley talks about the public school shutdown in Prince Edward County, Virginia, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Florence Farley talks about the public school shutdown in Prince Edward County, Virginia, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Florence Farley remembers the Crownsville State Hospital in Crownsville, Maryland

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Florence Farley describes her experiences at the Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Florence Farley describes her experiences at the Central State Hospital, in Petersburg, Virginia, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Florence Farley describes the psychiatric hospitals of the 1950s

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Florence Farley describes the conditions at Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Florence Farley recalls her reason for resigning from Central State Hospital

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Florence Farley remembers her early teaching experiences at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Florence Farley talks about the founding of the Association of Black Psychologists, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Florence Farley talks about the founding of the Association of Black Psychologists, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Florence Farley describes the early accomplishments of the Association of Black Psychologists

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Florence Farley talks about the civil rights protests in Petersburg, Virginia, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Florence Farley talks about the civil rights activities in Petersburg, Virginia, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Florence Farley remembers the black elected officials in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Florence Farley recalls obtaining a doctoral degree at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Florence Farley talks about her experiences as mayor of Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Florence Farley describes the community of Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Florence Farley remembers her mayoralty of Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Florence Farley describes her introduction to city politics in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Florence Farley recalls serving as a professor during her mayoralty of Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Florence Farley talks about her students at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Florence Farley describes the history of psychiatric drugs, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Florence Farley describes the history of psychiatric drugs, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Florence Farley talks about the prevalence of mental illness in the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Florence Farley describes her concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Florence Farley reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Florence Farley reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Florence Farley recalls learning to cross stitch

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Florence Farley describes her family

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Florence Farley recalls her mother's reaction to her dismissal from Virginia State College

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Florence Farley talks about her pendant necklace from Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Florence Farley recalls the challenges of integrating higher education in the State of Virginia

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Florence Farley narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$5

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Florence Farley talks about her family's homeownership
Florence Farley describes the psychiatric hospitals of the 1950s
Transcript
Did your grandmother [Lula Ware] and your mother [Neoda Ware Saunders] own their own land? I mean, did they, I mean did your grandmother own the land that she--?$$Oh, when my grandmother, as I said, she moved to Roanoke [Virginia], and she brought the family to Roanoke. So my mother grew up in Danville [Virginia] until she was I guess maybe ten or twelve years old, and then she came to Roanoke--okay, my mother moved to Roanoke. And my grandmother bought--and my uncle [Alfred Ware], see, and my grandmother lived together. So, my uncle worked full time for the railroad [Norfolk and Western Railway]. So he bought his home, he bought the home, and that's where my grandmother and he lived. And then right around the, on the next block--well, her house was on the corner, and if you go around the block, that was where my--she bought another house, and in that house she put my mother on the first floor and my aunt and uncle on the upstairs. So, she had her two families there, and she was right on the corner. She could watch the house, you know. We could as we--as my mother had more children and all, but my mother, after she married my father [Stacious Saunders], they moved to Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania]. And so my older brothers and sisters, some of my older brothers and sisters, were born in Pittsburgh. My grandmother, of course, was very unhappy, but she just couldn't get her back to Roanoke. And so my mother and father had a home in Pittsburgh and it caught fire and it burned all of their possessions. So that gave my grandmother an opportunity to get her hands back on my mother. So she brought her back, it was supposed to be temporary, to Roanoke, and they came back to Roanoke and stayed, and that's where the rest of us were born, and that's where we lived. So she bought this house and as I said before, initially the two families lived in it. As the family started expanding, my grandmother bought another house, and my uncle and his wife and children moved from the second floor of that house into the second house that my grandmother--it was the third house then--that she bought, which was again right there in the neighborhood. But, you know, my mother and father finished paying for the house, but she was the, she was the one who started both of those houses.$$Okay.$$So, so we always lived in a house that was owned by us.$These were the days when you could, you were committed to a hospital if you were supposed to be insane or something?$$Yes, yes.$$And just kind of talk about it a little--because people don't often understand that now (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay. This--basically, you know I forget that, I do. I forget time. It was, Central State [Central State Hospital, Petersburg, Virginia] was the only hospital in Virginia that blacks could go. Usually in every state you would have a psychiatric facility or a hospital for the severely mentally ill in that region. So we had Southwest Hospital [sic. Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute, Marion, Virginia], Western State Hospital [Staunton, Virginia], Eastern State Hospital [Williamsburg, Virginia]. So whites had, could go to a hospital that more or less was close in their region, which meant that their relatives could come and visit them and so forth. Blacks all had to come to Central State. So no matter where you lived, if you lived far west, southwest Virginia, you had to come all the way down to Petersburg [Virginia] if you had a relative who was committed to the hospital. When I was there, the last day I was there, the patient population was about forty-five hundred. It was, at the time before, this is the time before tranquilizers. I was working at Central, Crownsville State Hospital [Crownsville Hospital Center, Crownsville, Maryland] when the first drugs came. There were no drugs for mental illness. The patients were given electroshock therapy, they were given lobotomies--it was like if you ever saw the movie 'Snake Pit' ['The Snake Pit'], it was 'Snake Pit', okay. And we worked, we were there, we worked. The odors--like it was not clean, they were not clean. Patients were hurdled into rooms and just seated, just there all day long, very few things going on. I will say this: before I left, I had some of the newsletters. We'd even gotten newsletters out. And it described the activities that we were able to do. I stayed at Central State seven years and we were able, I was able to pull in young black psychologists from different, who had gone to historically black schools [historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)], who were not trained as clinicians. But I trained them on the spot, and trained them how to be clinical psychologists right there at the hospital. And so we made, things changed, but this was a transitional period also where they were moving from what I would call a snake pit kind of environment to a more hospital like environment. And the patients now, I think, they may have three or four hundred patients at the hospital. But they had, it was over four thousand patients the last day I was there. That was the census report, we got a census report every day. But all black people came there, and some of them, they were in locked wards. I was there when we first decided that we would have what you call unlocked wards. Some patients hadn't touched the ground in twenty-five years, but when we unlocked those wards, we let them be able to walk on the dirt surface. They didn't even know, see, how a human being would walk on the ground when they had never walked on anything but those wooden floors in those buildings. They had to change their whole gait, their whole way of walking, you know. So it was quite, quite a time.