The organization that has tasked itself with transforming James Madison’s historic estate in Orange County into a dynamic cultural institution has named a new president to lead its efforts.
The Montpelier Foundation on Wednesday announced that Eola Lewis Dance will be its new president and CEO.
Dance, an accomplished public historian with more than 20 years of experience with the National Parks Service and nonprofit organizations, will oversee operations at the 2,700-acre historic site that served as the home of the fourth U.S. president and author of the Bill of Rights.
She will replace interim President and CEO Elizabeth Chew, who was appointed in May 2022 after the resignation of Roy Young II and the hard-won establishment of structural parity between the Montpelier Descendants Committee and the foundation.
“We are thrilled beyond belief to welcome Eola Dance as our new President and CEO,” foundation board Chair Hasan Kwame Jeffries said in a statement. “Montpelier is a national treasure, and Eola has the experience, expertise, enthusiasm and vision to lead Montpelier to new and exciting heights.”
“I am honored to lead the Montpelier team and board as the site continues to make advancements in telling the full history of the Madisons, the African-American experience, and the making of America,” Dance said in her own statement. “As a country, this time of year, we reflect on the American Revolution and the foundation of American ideals. Montpelier is an ideal place for all to explore this rich history.”
Dance’s previous work includes leadership positions as superintendent of Fort Monroe National Monument and, most recently, as executive director of Black Lunch Table, a nonprofit organization that brings together artists and communities at roundtables to discuss issues of race and build a more complete understanding of cultural history.
Dance is currently a doctoral candidate at Howard University, specializing in U.S. history with a minor in African diaspora and public history. She holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from Savannah College of Art and Design, a bachelor’s in history from Southern University and a graduate certificate in environmental policy from George Washington University.
Dance’s academic research “focuses on constructs of race in Colonial America, the evolution of racialized slavery, the legacy of 1619, and opportunities for healing and reconciliation within and across communities,” according to a biography provided by the Montpelier Foundation.
Dance told The Orange County Review she was particularly drawn to Montpelier by “the commitment that the team as well as the board has had in engaging descendant communities and in talking about difficult topics in American history.”
“For me, that has been a big part of my work for quite some time,” she said. “I have been working with historic sites since 2001, and that work has been centered around historic house museums and working with descendants.”
Dance said that her immediate goals include “working with the team on thinking about the interpretive program and tours of the historic house, and how we can expand those narratives to be as inclusive as possible,” as well as continuing to bring in experts from a wide range of fields for programs at Montpelier’s Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution.
She also plans to build upon the foundation’s collaboration with the Montpelier Descendants Committee to create a memorial to the enslaved community at the estate. Ultimately, Dance hopes to build an interconnected network of historic sites throughout Virginia to better tell the stories of the enslaved and connect with descendants.
“As far south as Point Comfort, which is located at Fort Monroe in Hampton, or sites like Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, or other presidential homes like Monticello and Mount Vernon, we’re looking at how we can connect these sites through shared interpretation and collaboration in a network program,” she said.
Dance said that Montpelier’s work to uncover a more complete history will include researching the unique experiences of the women who were among the more than 300 documented enslaved persons who lived and worked at Montpelier.
“In working with our historian and our research team in better understanding what the experience of African-American women would been, there is an opportunity for us to explore what this double burden in American history would have been in being woman and in being of African descent,” she said. “And so, in thinking about expanding those interpretive programs, that’s absolutely the type of topic that we are well positioned to explore with educators, with our university partners and scholars.”