Louise and Lucille Caudill – sisters in Morehead, Kentucky

May 30, 2011 in 1920s-30s, Genealogy

Lucille Caudill Little, by Adalin Wichman, ©2003; photograph: M. S. Rezny

Lucille Caudill Little, portrait by Adalin Wichman

Upon hearing last week about the Little Foundation’s fabulous gifts to the Lexington Children’s Theatre and to Morehead State University’s scholarship program for theatre majors, I decided to write up a biography entry in Wikipedia on Lucille Caudill Little.  What a terrific cause she led: the encouragement of the fine arts in Kentucky and supporting the arts education of our youth.  Her foundation, created after the death of her husband, dispensed over $20 million to non-profit arts organizations; and, this recent dispensation – totaling $5 million – was the largest the foundation has ever made.

I have learned so far only bits and pieces about her from news accounts and laudatory pages on Kentucky arts organizations’ websites.  Why is she not more prominent in the regular media?  Philanthropic activities by men in Kentucky regularly garner the public limelight and journalists often detail their lives and backgrounds:  W.T. Young, C.V. Whitney and John Gaines come to mind quickly.  The most intriguing information about Lucille Caudill Little (1909-2002) I gleaned is from a genealogy site: the Alexander Stewart Family of Kentucky, by Louie M. Stewart.

At this site, I found where Mr. Stewart had transcribed articles about the Caudill family.  A wonderful interview of Lucille Caudill Little in October 2001 with Ed Lane is posted there.  Though her voice rings through clearly in the interview, I felt I only got snippets.  Particularly interesting, and not unsurprising given the disputed history of wealthy Southern women, the interview transcript included her adamant stance of being publicly non-political: “… there’s too much politics. I have dedicated myself to not be involved. I want to wash my hands of politics.”  Somehow, I find this demurral hard to believe.  Her political thoughts and her very personal approach to benevolent works need greater examination.

Dr. Louise Caudill of Morehead, Kentucky, at age 25 in 1937

Louise Caudill, 25 years old in 1937

I also found a a transcription of articles and lawsuits involving Little’s father, Daniel Boone Caudill who was a circuit court judge.  The Caudills were descendants of Craig Tolliver, town marshall in the Rowan County War, a highly publicized feud of the 1880s.

The articles on Lucille’s younger sister, Louise, detailed the life of a women’s rights activist who drew my attention for inclusion in this Kentucky Women in the Civil Rights Era site.  Claire Louise Caudill (1913-1999) started out as a physical education teacher at Morehead Normal Teacher’s College, then attended Ohio State University and Columbia University in the 1930s to attain her medical degree.  A country doctor who delivered more than 8,000 babies in and around Rowan County, her life and works are explored in great detail in the book Rowan’s Progress by James McConkey, a Morehead native who taught English at Cornell University. I wonder about Dr. Caudill and her longtime nurse and friend, Susie Halbleib who started their practice together in 1948.  Were they life companions drawn together by a homosexual love, or working together as single women against the norm as they struggled to improve health care in the region? They were both committed to women’s health issues and pushed for better prenatal care — and, they were loved by their community since it was said that many babies in Rowan County were named after them.  She helped raise $294,000 in 1960 to build the Morehead’s St. Claire Medical Center and helped secure staffing for it. The hospital, which opened in 1963, was named in Caudill’s honor. She was the first chief of staff, serving til 1972 and served on the hospital’s board for many years.

We have much work to do to understand better the reasons that allowed these strong women of Kentucky, growing up on the 1920s and 30s, to have such an impact on our state.  How is it possible to find case after case of amazing, talented and powerful individuals like these two sisters — and yet, Kentucky’s women and children today remain some of the poorest in the nation, living embattled lives seen more often in developing countries than in the U.S.?

~~~ Other Resources ~~~

Hollingsworth, Randolph. “Lucille Caudill Little.” Wikipedia. 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Caudill_Little>.

Lane, Ed G. “One-on-One with Lucille Caudill: ‘I Have Called Myself a College Tramp’.” The Alexander Stewart Family of Kentucky. N.p., October 2001. Web. 30 May 2011. <http://www.kentuckystewarts.com/RowanCounty/LucilleCaudill.htm>.

Little, Lucille Caudill. Interview by Jeanne Ontko Suchanek. Tape recording and transcript, 17 November 1998. Charles T. Wethington University of Kentucky Oral History Collection, accession no. 1998OH083 A/F 592, Louis B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, Kentucky.

“Louise Caudill.” Alexander Stewart Family of Kentucky. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2011. <http://www.kentuckystewarts.com/RowanCounty/LouiseCaudill1994.htm>.

“Lucille Caudill Little.” centerstage. Kentucky Educational Television: KET, Lexington, 1995. Television. 30 May 2011. <http://www.ket.org/tvschedules/episode.php?nola=KLCLC+000000>.

McConkey, James. Rowan’s Progress. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.


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