Laura Clay: Kentucky Suffragette

September 23, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Political history

Laura Clay was born into a wealthy family and was well educated but this did not separate her from leading a life of advocacy for all women during the sufferage movement.  Laura Clay was the daughter of Cassius Marcellus Clay, a prominent politician and was educated at the University of Michigan and the University of Kentucky.  It wasn’t until after her parents divorced leaving her and her sisters homeless that she decided to join the women’s rights movement.

So in 1888 she and a woman named Josephine K. Henry founded the Kentucky Equal Rights Association.  Clay served as the association’s president until 1912 before being succeeded by her cousin and also well known Kentucky women’s rights activist Madeline McDowell Breckenridge.

During her time with the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Clay was able to establish some great milestones for women in the state of Kentucky.  Some examples are  protecting married women’s wages and property, requiring state women’s mental hospitals to have female doctors on staff, getting  Transylvania University and Central University to admit women students, raising the age of consent for girls to 16 from 12, and establishing juvenile courts. They also inspired the University of Kentucky’s first women’s dormitory.

However, there are some contradictions associated with Ms. Clay.  Although she brought some great things to the women’s movement in Kentucky through her activism, one could also make the argument that she actually impeded some progress when she opposed the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution citing that it violated state’s rights.

The amendent still passed and Ms. Clay was still praised and liked among most women activists.  She was even nominated for President by the Democratic party, and although she didn’t win the nomination, she made American history as being the first woman to ever be nominated by a major political party and still remains an important part of women’s rights and the history of women’s suffrage today.

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