Much of what we know about the history of Arlington County is due to the work of Eleanor Lee Templeman, photographer, local historian, and author of several books on the history of the area.
Templeman, although born in 1907 in Washington DC, grew up in California. She moved back east to attend the Critcher School of Painting and Applied Arts, where she graduated in 1929. She subsequently worked as an artist and illustrator for the American Automobile Association and the US Geological Survey.
However, Templeman’s real passion lay in local history. She was a descendent of Richard Bland Lee, uncle to Robert E. Lee, and served as Secretary, Genealogist and Historian of the Society of Lees in Virginia at various points between 1947 and her death in 1990. She was heavily involved with the fights to preserve Fort Marcy, Fort Ethan Allen and Sulley Plantation, and at the time of her death was working with groups to preserve Abingdon Plantation, which is located on Reagan National Airport grounds.
It is Eleanor Lee Templeman’s bibliography, however, that has had such an effect on local historical research. Templeman was constantly writing articles on Arlington and Northern Virginia history for a variety of historical publications, co-authored Northern Virginia Heritage and was the sole author of Arlington Heritage: Vignettes of a Virginia County (seen above). Templeman did the majority of the photography for both books; these photographs are an invaluable resource, documenting important structures, roads, cemeteries and even large trees as they stood in the 1950s and 1960s, when Arlington was undergoing major development. Meant as a “then and now” type of book, her “now” has turned into our “then”.
Templeman was rewarded for her efforts with awards from Marymount University in 1975 and the American Association for State and Local History in 1983. She was the Organized Women Voters of Arlington’s Women of the Year in 1966. Here in the library, the Virginia Room holds multiple copies of Northern Virginia Heritage and Arlington Heritage, and the Arlington Community Archives has PG 900, her photographs from both books, and RG 23, her research and clipping files.