Thomas Jefferson believed that ignorance is the greatest enemy of democracy: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their government.”

The Richmond First Club, observing its 100th anniversary this year, was organized with this principle firmly in mind — that our city can thrive only with a well-informed, well-motivated citizenry supporting its good governance.

With young soldiers returning from World War I and a new century underway, Richmond was ripe for reform and innovation in 1919. Action was needed for better roads and bridges, excellent schools, new library systems, a more efficient city government, a modern airport, a deeper port and other pressing municipal matters.

Richmond’s business and professional leaders banded together to form what later became known as the Richmond First Club. Over the decades, the nonpartisan organization provided guidance and support for major studies and initiatives to move the city forward.

The story of the club is really the history of Richmond government, spanning 10 decades. In his history of Richmond First, Peter Boisseau covers major initiatives that the organization has studied and supported:

  • A city public library system;
  • A city-owned airport and a city-owned sports stadium;
  • A nationally recognized, comprehensive study of municipal government to improve efficiency during the Great Depression;
  • A change to a professional city manager form of government after World War II;
  • A joint public water agreement with Henrico County;
  • Building I-195 using federal funds rather than tolls;
  • A major James River corridor study;
  • Regional cooperation through a planning district commission, economic development and a conference center; and
  • Another change in the city’s form of government: elected mayor-professional management.

Dr. Dice Robins Anderson, a highly regarded professor of history at the University of Richmond and one of the founders of the organization, noted: “In informing themselves first, and then spreading information to other groups and individuals, the Richmond First Club has and will continue to perform a most useful service to our city.”

Today, the club strongly supports regional good-government initiatives, such as fair, nonpartisan redistricting for Virginia elections. Monthly programs inform members of issues central to the success of the city and the surrounding counties in the metropolitan region.

Speakers include area government officials; educators; candidates for office; specialists in transportation, economic development, tourism and regional cooperation; health care and nonprofit service providers; authorities on housing and challenges of the homeless; and political analysts, among other metro region leaders.

As the club celebrates its 100th anniversary, Richmond First welcomes new members from all neighborhoods in the region who believe, with Jefferson, that well-informed citizens are essential for a better government for everyone. For more information, please access our website at: www. Richmondfirstclub.org

Suzanne Munson is president of the Richmond First Club. Contact her at: suzmunson01@gmail.com