Virginia K. Johnson was a courageous woman who was called to help unfortunate women in Dallas, even though, at the time, it wasn’t proper for reputable ladies to speak of prostitution, not to mention leading an effort to rescue them from a life of depravity.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1843, Virginia Knight came from a well-to-do family. During the Civil War, Virginia assisted Confederate soldiers and was imprisoned as a Confederate spy. She married William Johnson, a prominent attorney, when she was twenty-nine, and The Johnsons moved to Dallas in 1880.
William died within the next ten years, and Virginia began her efforts in charity work, going door to door requesting donations for local charitable causes. In 1893 she also became head of The King’s Daughters, a Methodist missionary society for women.
At age fifty, her life would take another turn when Virginia was approached by a local madam who asked for help in leaving the prostitution business and starting a new life. Virginia and The King’s Daughters considered her request an appeal from God to help wayward women start new lives. After requesting donations through an article in The Dallas Morning News, the group opened an interdenominational eight-room rescue house in Oak Cliff named Sheltering Arms.
In 1896, Virginia produced The King’s Messenger, a quarterly Methodist magazine that heralded five thousand subscribers, and through it, she continued to solicit donations for rescue work. In 1897, local resident Ann Cunningham donated a small parcel of land in East Dallas and ten-thousand dollars toward a new shelter. However, it too would be inadequate for the number of women wanting assistance.
To be continued….