Ladies rule: Betty Coates was first woman supervisor of Rapp

Contrary to what was reported in this newspaper following Election Day, Sperryville’s Christine Smith is not the first woman supervisor-elect of Rappahannock County.

Diane Bruce was the initial reader weighing in with a history lesson: “Betty Snead Coates was the first female supervisor in Rappahannock County in the early 1970s. She also represented Piedmont Precinct. Her father was the local, highly respected doctor; her daughter still owns property in Rappahannock County.”

Patrick Alther was even more specific: “The print edition stated that Christine Smith is the first female supervisor in Rappahannock. That is incorrect. Betty S. Coates served from 1968-1973. She was the daughter of beloved county physician John P. Snead and the niece of the late Judge Rayner Snead (from Ned Johnson’s book on history of the county).”

Finally, Louie Miller wrote all the way from Arizona (where he and his wife, Sally, spend the winter months): “I believe that Betty Coates was a one term Piedmont supervisor in the 1970’s. Understand you are having cooler temps. So are we. It was only 85 with 14 percent humidity today.”

From what we gather, Mrs. Coates was not only the county’s first elected supervisor, she was a force to be reckoned with while seated between men on the board. Consider this telling tidbit from the July 12, 1973 edition of the Rappahannock News:

“Rappahannock’s Board of Supervisors voted last Thursday by a 3-2 margin to have one man work two days a week in the zoning office. The board, on a motion by Mrs. Betty Coates, voted to ask Col. Evan McNear, who now works one day a week for $105.50 a month, to work two days a week at $20 a day doing three jobs. Col. McNear is now the zoning administrator and also the head of Civil Defense. He was asked by the board to assume the duties of building inspector, also.

“Supervisor chairman Newbill Miller voted against the motion, saying: ‘You know he can’t. He said he can’t work one more day a week.’ This is because McNear is retired, it was explained.

“Mrs. Coates explained her opinion in the event McNear turns down the increase: ‘If I find that I can’t do the job, I would resign.’”

It isn’t clear what became of the otherwise retired Col. McNear. But we can report that just three weeks later Mrs. Coates would suddenly resign her position from the board. As was reported Aug. 2, 1973:

“Col. Pete Luke was named Wednesday as a member from the Piedmont District on the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors. This vacancy was created by the Aug. 1 resignation of Mrs. Betty Coates. Col. Luke will serve until the 1974 general election, at which time a board member from the district will be elected.”

Speaking of women who rule, no better time to recall that during the 1950s the Washington Town Council made national news headlines when the town elected an “all-women” Town Council, mayor and treasurer.

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at