Florence Saunders Farley was the first African American woman elected as mayor of Petersburg, VA.
A native of Roanoke, VA, Florence Saunders Farley earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) in 1950. After completing her degree, she entered the Women’s Army Corps, where she became a second lieutenant and the first African American female training officer at Fort Lee, Virginia.
After leaving the military, Farley completed her master’s degree in psychology at Virginia State, and is believed to be the first clinically licensed Black psychologist in Virginia, and perhaps the first Black to serve as staff psychologist at the Central State Hospital, an institution then serving an all-black clientele. She later became chief psychologist at the institution.
In 1962, Farley joined the faculty at Virginia State and served for several years as the chair of the Department of Psychology. She later completed her PhD at Kent State University in 1977.
Her began political career began in 1973 when she became the first woman elected to the Petersburg City Council and a member of Virginia’s first majority black city council. She was also re-elected in 1978 and 1982. In 1984, after the resignation of Mayor R. Wilson Cheely, Farley became the first female mayor of Petersburg and the first black woman to become mayor of a Virginia city. Farley has also served from 2002 to 2006 on the Petersburg School Board, and for a period holding the post of vice chair.