Suffragists

from Kentucky

Elizabeth “Lizzie” B. Cooke Fouse
Elizabeth “Lizzie” B. Cooke Fouse

(May 14, 1875- October 22, 1952)

4th President of Kentucky Association of Colored Women, correspondant for NAACP, temperance and suffrage activist – founder of Lexington’s Phillis Wheatley YWCA

Frances Jewell McVey
Frances Jewell McVey

(1889-1945)

Frances Jewell McVey, who as a young woman participated in Fayette County Equal Rights Association activities – including the production of a suffrage play; photo from the University of Kentucky’s Portrait Print Collection

Frances Estill Beauchamp
Frances Estill Beauchamp

(1857-1923)

Kentucky suffragist, temperance leader and philanthropist

Frances R. Estill Beauchamp of Lexington, reformer and lecturer, served as an important connection between the largest women’s organization in the nation, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the Kentucky suffrage movement. In collaboration with the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs (KFWC) and the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA), the Kentucky WCTU under Beauchamp’s leadership brought a depth of scope and political strategies that the KERA needed at crucial points in the fight for women’s right to vote. A writer, philanthropist and popular orator, Beauchamp mobilized both white and black women. Beauchamp’s funeral in 1923 at the First Presbyterian Church featured national celebrities including Charles R. Jones (chairman of the executive committee of the Prohibition Party) and Anna Gordon (world president of the WCTU). She was a speaker of rare quality, uniting eloquence and force in a logical presentation of facts.

Linda Neville
Linda Neville

Lifetime of successful activism rooted in networking and lobbyist skills learned in Lexington

She was elected president of the Fayette Equal Rights Association and served from 1910-1913, then as first vice-president in 1913. Neville’s work in children’s health, eradicating trachoma and raising the issues associated with sexually transmitted diseases, mobilized women reformers of all kinds as well as male medical professionals. Her success derived from the skills, attitudes and values learned from the leaders of the Kentucky woman suffrage movement with whom she worked after graduating from Bryn Mawr.

Kate Meriwether Barker
Kate Meriwether Barker

After many years of lobbying by the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, women at the State University in Lexington finally got access to campus housing in 1904. Patterson Hall was built for this purpose and was the first of the University’s buildings to be constructed off of the main campus existing at that time. Kate Meriwether Barker (wife of the university’s president at the time) served as theDean of Women and lived in the dormitory when the Philosophian Literary Society organized an Equal Rights Association in March 1915. Mrs. Louis Becker came from the Louisville Woman Suffrage Association to support the students in their creation of the group. Marie Louise Michot of Louisville (photo is from 1916 University yearbook) was elected president of the UK ERA; Julia Van Arsdale, vice-president; and, Jacqueline Hall, secretary.

Dr. Mary E. Britton
Dr. Mary E. Britton

(1855-1925)

Dr. Mary E. Britton was the first woman in Lexington to be granted a license to practice medicine 1902, suffragist, orator and educator; photo from Wikipedia attributed to the Hutchins Library, Berea College

Ida Withers Harrison
Ida Withers Harrison

(1851-1927)

Lexington suffragist

While Harrison is remembered for her services as a Christian missionary, she is also a recognized philanthropist and activist who ardently believed in women’s education and women’s rights, including suffrage.  She was a gifted orator who was regularly invited to speak at various functions.  In 1910 she was recruited to serve on the Kentucky Equal Rights Association lecture bureau, and in 1920 Harrison was listed as a member of the “oratorical heavy artillery” for the Speaker’s Bureau of the Kentucky Democratic Campaign. Harrison was the recipient of a number of important awards. She was named honorary president for life of the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs. She became the first woman ever to receive an honorary Doctorate of Law from Transylvania University.

Lucy Wilmot Smith
Lucy Wilmot Smith

Lucy Wilmot Smith’s life was lived “by voice and pen.” In 1886 Smith addressed the ANBC in St. Louis on the topic of women’s career options. Her speech titled “The Future Colored Girl” pointed to the limited career options for the black woman and recommended young women seek self-employment in the areas of poultry-keeping, small-fruit raising, dairying, lecturing, photography, and medicine. Smith further suggested that medicine was also an area which women should focus their efforts, writing, “I think all surgical operations on women should be performed only by women” intimating that women were best suited to care for other women. Additionally she encouraged women to pursue journalism, saying, “We need papers and magazines edited by women for women.” Smith herself worked as a journalist and was a member of the Afro-American Press Convention.

Mary Barr Clay
Mary Barr Clay

(1839-1924)

Mary Barr Clay was the first Kentucky woman to speak publicly about women’s rights, founder of the first suffrage clubs south of the Mason-Dixon line and was the first Southerner elected president of a national suffrage association.

Laura Clay
Laura Clay

Besides Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, Laura Clay – living in the Hart house on the corner of Mill and Second (now a parking lot) – was our most visible champion of women’s rights here in Lexington. During the violence and growing segregationism of the Jim Crow era, she presented complex and well-reasoned arguments that pulled together white women activists in the South to focus on women’s suffrage efforts. As early as 1910 she was convinced by many legal scholars, including her contemporary Henry St. George Tucker at Yale, that a more concentrated effort for State Suffrage Amendments in all the remaining states without women’s suffrage rights was most appropriate. In her debate against M McD Breckinridge before the Woman’s Club of Central Kentucky on October 18th, 1919 (which she won), she posited: “…a Federal Amendment is not necessary for the speedy success of woman suffrage, and that at best the Anthony amendment does not make women the political peers of men.” Looking at the current representation rates based on gender alone, we might today still see the power of her argument.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge
Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

National Suffrage Leader and Reformer

One of Kentucky’s leading progressive reformers, she is probably best known for a retort to Governor James B. McCreary:  “Kentucky women are not idiots—even though they are closely related to Kentucky men.” Breckenridge was the founder of many civic organizations, including the Lexington Civic League, Associated Charities and Kentucky Association for the Prevention and Treatment of Tuberculosis. She led efforts to create these organizations, implement model schools for children and adults, parks and recreations, manual training programs, and health care facilities for tuberculosis treatment. Frustrated by the lack of influence that she and other women had with state politicians regarding social reform, Breckenridge began lobbying the right for women to vote so they would have a greater voice in the political process.  She spoke about women’s suffrage in several states, regarded by some as militant, was one of Kentucky’s most active suffragists and a fervent supporter of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Mary Scrugham

(1885-1965)

Woman Suffrage Activist

Mary Scrugham was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1885. Scrugham was a long supporter of the woman suffrage cause. During her time teaching, Scrugham introduced her students to the subject. In 1915, Scrugham presented at the Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association on “The Schools and the Ballot.”  After the passing of the 19th amendment, Scrugham continued to be involved in politics as a leader of the Fayette County Women’s Democratic Club and Kentucky League of Women Voters. 

Henrietta Earle "Ettie" Bronston Chenault

(1835-1918)

In January 1888, Chenault helped Laura Clay, nationally prominent suffragist and women’s rights advocate, to form the Fayette County Equal Rights Association (ERA). Clay served as the first president and Chenault, the corresponding secretary. Just a year after she died, in June 1919, Congress passed an amendment granting women the right to vote, and in 1920, the states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.

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