Some cities, through hardship or glory or a combination of both, produce extraordinary women. Richmond in the early twentieth century, dominated by its prominent families and still haunted by the ghosts of its Confederate past, produced a galaxy of such characters, including Ellen Glasgow, Mary Cooke Branch Munford, and Lila Meade Valentine. Elisabeth Scott Bocock, Victorian in values but modern in outlook, carried on this tradition with her unique combination of family wealth and connections, boundless energy, eccentricity, and visionary zeal. Her daughter Mary Buford Hitz's candid memoir reveals the pleasures and frustrations of growing up with a woman who expected so much from her children and from the city whose self-appointed guardian she became.
Elisabeth Bocock's vision was of a city that would take historic preservation seriously, of a society that would accept the importance of conservation. Impatient with process and society's conventions, she used her enormous personal magnetism to circumvent them when founding many of the institutions Richmond takes for granted today. In the creation of the Historic Richmond Foundation, the Carriage Museum at Maymont, the Hand Workshop, and the Virginia Chapter of the Nature Conservancy she played the dual roles of visionary and bulldozer. While part of a tradition of strong southern women, Elisabeth Bocock's tactics were unique, as she sought to convince others of both the practical and aesthetic links between preservation and the environment.
One of the "five little Scotts," children of the founder of the investment firm Scott & Stringfellow, she grew up with great privilege, and she schooled her children in how to take advantage of such privilege and how to ignore it. Whether in their winter residence at 909 West Franklin Street in Richmond or at their summer home, Royal Orchard, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in her household she insisted both on achievement and on avoiding boredom at all costs.
As Mary Buford Hitz recounts with intelligence and feeling, her mother often seemed like a natural force, leveling anything that stood in its way but leaving in its wake a brighter, changed world. Never Ask Permission is not only a daughter's honest portrait of a charismatic and difficult woman who broke the threads of convention; in Elisabeth Scott Bocock we recognize the flawed but feisty, enduring character of Richmond.
Not since Clarence Day has an author writing about a real-life parent done so with such verve. Although she would probably have never used the label, Elisabeth Scott Bocock was certainly a feminist—one who could persuade powerful men to do her bidding. In this way she resembled, but vastly outdistanced, many southern women reformers of her day.
For all of us who came to love Elisabeth Scott Bocock, almost as much as we feared the purity and ferocity of her commitments, Mary Buford Hitz has performed a minor miracle. She has captured her mother's iridescent personality, with all of its complexity and baffling charm, in this courageously candid memoir.
This candid memoir of the life of Elisabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond by her daughter, Mary Buford Hitz, is a pleasure to read on two levels. It is the biography of an effective local historic preservationist of our time (she died in 1985) with lessons for others in this field. It is also an engaging, fast-paced, detailed account of life as it goes on behind the drawn blinds of the homes of the wealthiest families in Richmond.
The book is a well-paced, engaging narrative. It includes lots of good information about the history of Richmond and the importance of preserving the past. Hitz is successful in conveying the strength, creativity, and grace of her mother.
Full of humor, Never Ask Permission chronicles the lively and passionate life of Elisabeth Scott Bocock, middle child of Frederic and Elisabeth Scott, wife of lawyer John H. Bocock, mother of three children, and savior of Richmond's rich architectural heritage. The result is a funny and grateful book about life among the elite and their passionate interest in social reform.
It appears that what began as an attempt to gather vivid impressions and recollections grew into a reasoned and incisive analysis of a complicated personality. Implied throughout is a desire to understand, rather than simply to record memories. In addition to her own keen perceptions, Mrs. Hitz drew upon a variety of sources - letters; interviews with family, friends, business associates; numerous published works; and historical records.... Following her death, the Virginia House of Delegates issued a joint resolution stating that "the best of the past, preserved at [ESB's] insistence, insures that her indomitable spirit will always be remembered." Now, thanks to her daughter, that spirit lives in a striking full-length historical portrait for all to appreciate.
Mary Buford Hitz is a freelance writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and New Dominion Magazine.