6 Kentucky women recognized this Women's History Month

A handful of great Kentucky ladies. Clockwise from top-left: Laura Clay, Rebecca Boone, Belle Brezing,
Thelma Stovall, Martha Layne Collins, and Mary Elliott Flanery
Among other things, March is women’s history month. Underappreciated throughout the long arc of history, women have played a crucial role in human history. Even though social or religious norms may have relegated women to a lesser status through different historical epochs, women always found an opportunity to accomplish great things.

Just as they have elsewhere, Kentucky women have greatly contributed to the history of our commonwealth.

Jessamine County is the only Kentucky county that has a feminine name. Legend suggests that the county was named after Jessamine Douglas. Ms. Douglas was the daughter of surveyor James Douglas, who built his home near the head of Jessamine Creek. The legend goes on to say that the young Ms. Douglas was sitting near the banks of the creek when the sharp end of an Indian’s tomahawk found her head.

Laura Clay was more than just a suffragette. The daughter of emancipationist Cassius M. Clay, Laura worked through various channels to help Kentucky women receive the right to vote. In 1920, her name was placed for nomination at the national Democratic Party convention, marking the first time that a woman had ever been nominated by a major political party for president of the United States.

Reaching earlier into Kentucky’s rich history, Rebecca Boone worked hand in hand with her well-known husband, Daniel. Though Daniel Boone’s actions have been elevated to that of hero, Rebecca’s heroine status is rarely noted. She suffered the same frontier challenges her husband encountered, all while being left alone in the charge of their children while her husband made even further explorations.

Lexington’s noted madame, Belle Brezing, was also an accomplished Kentuckian. Though her trade may be deemed questionable, she was an incredibly astute businesswoman who maintained impeccable books and was generous with various philanthropic causes in Lexington. All this from a poor young orphan who became a mother herself at a young age.

Kentucky’s lieutenant governors and governors used to be elected separately. In 1975, Kentuckians for the first time elected a woman, Thelma Stovall, as lieutenant governor. Lt. Gov. Stovall took an active role in her position, especially when serving as acting governor when Gov. Carroll traveled out of state.

Succeeding Lt. Gov. Stovall was Martha Layne Collins, who was elected in her own right to the governor’s mansion in 1983. Gov. Collins remains the only woman to ever serve as Kentucky governor and was only the third female elected as a governor in the United States.

In 1922, Mary Elliott Flanery of Boyd County became the first female south of the Mason-Dixon line to be elected to a legislative body. Four years later, Katherine Langley became the first woman elected to Congress from the commonwealth.

And currently three of the seven members of the Kentucky Supreme Court are women.

The term “women’s history,” however, is almost a misnomer. The history itself is not limited to the female gender because history belongs to all of us. And to call it history isn’t accurate, either.

There are still “glass ceilings” to be broken, and every year new barriers are broken. Women’s history — our history — continues to be written.

The post above was originally published in the Jessamine Journal on March 12, 2015.  
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