Joy Nash Gives a Voice to the Women of the VIA

With Doylestown Hospital’s centennial year celebrations coming up, Joy Nash and other members of the Village Improvement Association (VIA) of Doylestown got to work looking for ways to honor the pioneering women who founded their civic organization in 1895 and Doylestown Hospital 28 years later.

Joy Nash, author of the play, "Voices: A History of the VIA of Doylestown,” which will be staged at Phillips’ Mill in July, 2023.

As a woman, a writer, an architect and a community advocate, Joy felt a certain kinship with these women. She admired them greatly for getting things done when no one else seemed to try. “The women of the VIA hired a visiting nurse in 1916 because there was no public healthcare in Doylestown,” Joy explains. “The citizens of Doylestown had to travel to the new hospital in Abington for anything other than routine maternal care or minor illness and injuries.”

Joy had been writing successful romantic novels for a mass market publisher for many years when she learned about the VIA and its steadfast founders who established Doylestown Hospital in 1923. Her recent retirement from her “other career” as an architect in her family’s real estate and construction management business has given her an opportunity to spend more time exploring her special interest in historic homes and preservation.

“I would walk around the borough and see these historic homes, and I became interested in the history of the VIA and the James-Lorah Memorial Home. It had been willed to the VIA by one of its original 1895 charter members, Miss Sarah James, in the 1950s,” says Joy. The historic home, also noted as the birthplace of Henry Chapman Mercer, is now the official headquarters of the VIA of Doylestown.

“During the pandemic, I started working in the house and found incredible historical artifacts,” Joy says. “Not only does the home look much as it did in 1895, it also contains the archives of the VIA. From day one, the ladies kept very detailed minutes of meetings and important happenings—all in incredible penmanship. I was so impressed by their professionalism. Twenty-five years before they gained the vote, these Victorian women essentially started a profitable business. They bought property, founded and operated a hospital, hired nurses and other employees—and it’s all recorded in the VIA minutes. 

“Reading these historical records, I could almost hear their voices. I knew I had to do something with them. So I decided to turn them into a play,” she continues. “I have been a novelist for years, but now I guess you can call me a playwright too.”

An architecture graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Joy is a bestselling author and RITA Award finalist. She has loved both historical buildings and books for as long as she can remember.

Sarah James and Friends c. 1885

“Rewriting the tour scripts of the James-Lorah Home, focusing on the lives of the people who lived there, really inspired me to do the same with the Founding Mothers of the VIA. I loved learning all about Doylestown’s tight-knit community in those days,” Joy recalls. After putting together all the pieces of the VIA documents to write “Voices,” she plans to revisit her goal of writing a historical Doylestown murder mystery. For now, she is looking forward to seeing “Voices: A History of the VIA of Doylestown” on stage at Phillips’ Mill.

“I had to give a voice to these forgotten women,” she says. “I want everyone in our community to love them as much as I do.”

You can read more about Joy here.

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Illustration of the Phillips' Mill -Artist: Kathie Jankauskus