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Mary Wharton

January 4, 2012 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

Mary Wharton and her dog at the Kentucky RiverMy mother saw this site and said we should celebrate her hero: Dr. Mary E. Wharton (1912-1991) from Lexington. A tireless advocate for Kentucky’s dwindling forests, Wharton led many groups on trips throughout Kentucky to marvel at the richness of our environmental heritage.

Wharton was well educated: she graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s degree after majoring in both botany and geology; then went on to earn a Masters and then a Ph.D from the University of Michigan by 1945. She returned to Kentucky to work at Georgetown College as a professor of botany and became the chair of the Department of Biological Sciences until she retired in 1974. Wharton wrote and coauthored several books including A Guide to Wildflowers & Ferns of Kentucky (1971), Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky (1973) and Bluegrass Land and Life (1991). She started the Land and Nature Trust of the Bluegrass and she was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Kentucky Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Dr. Wharton led the protest against the Army Corp of Engineers who were planning to dam the Red River Gorge, and a flawed plan by the Department of Highways to widen Paris Pike. The 278 acre Mary E. Wharton Nature Sanctuary at Flora Cliff on the Kentucky River in southern Fayette County is named in her honor.

Indicative of her status as an elite Kentucky woman, Dr. Wharton was a respected member of the Colonial Dames, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Rubus whartoniae, an endangered species of dewberry that she discovered in 1942 is named after her.

For more information, see her papers at the University of Kentucky Special Collections where you will find several hundred photographs, sound recordings, post cards, tour guides, maps, and notes of her trips — and also Dr. Wharton’s religious writings and publications.

How to raise a woman of the Bluegrass in the 1950s – Donna Dodd Terrell Jones and the D.A.R. monument at Bryan Station

October 11, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

Bryan Station memorial

1896 D.A.R. Monument to the women and girls living at Bryan Station in August 1782

Found a beautiful autobiographical statement in a footnote within an essay, Boone Station and the Pioneer National Monument Act, by Donna Dodd Terrell Jones, B.A., M.A., J.D. in The Journal of Kentucky History and Genealogy.

Here you will see a well-learned lesson of courage under fire for white women of privilege consistent with the conservative values of historically minded Kentuckians.

“When I, the author, was about 6 or 8 years old I went on one of my Great Maw’s (great grandmother Barker/Dodd’s) excursions with her. She, a direct descendant of Samuel and Sarah Day Boone, took me to Bryan Station. On that 1950s excursion, after much back and forth “jockeying” of Great Maw’s usual great big black (or once baby blue!) Cadillac alongside the narrow rural road, Great Maw finally stopped with my passenger side window afforded the “best” view through the shrubbery of the famous Bryan Station fort and “women at the well” memorial site. Then she proceeded to tell me the story of how, in the face of Indian attack, the women (at least one of whom was my relative) had so stoically and bravely gone to the well to secure water to be carried back inside the waterless fort for use during the at-any-moment anticipated siege. After imparting the details of the women’s heroism she then admonished me as follows: I was told that no matter what difficulties I would face in life it was highly unlikely that I would ever be asked to endure the harrowing circumstances that these brave women had endured. I was told that these woman had behaved bravely and with dignity and strong character under seriously adverse circumstances and that, in my life, when I thought times were difficult I was to remember these women’s story and to remember that my problems were relatively minor and to conform my behavior to emulate their poise, demeanor and strength of character. I was told that, if called upon, I could do it too. It is amazing how many times in my life I have pondered and drawn strength from Great Maw’s Bryan Station lesson. When, in the summer of 2009, I was graciously invited to a re-enactment of the women going to the well, during the ceremony I sat on the back row between Dr. David McMurtry and Dr. Ron Bryant. As the re-enactors appeared and began their journey down the hill towards the well I found that tears uncontrollably “welled” up in my eyes and profusely ran down my cheeks. It was a very special moment in my life and one that I will never forget. I will always be grateful for the production of and the invitation to that event.”(footnote 6)


Other Resources:

Bryan Station, The Pioneer Times: An Online Journal of Living History, 15 August 2007,

Bryan Station Alumni Association,

Donna Dodd Terrell Jones on Facebook

Mary Elliot Flannery

October 13, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

          I have decided to do research on Mary Elliot Flannery, Kentucky’s and the south’s first female legislator.  After reading about her, I couldn’t help but wonder where the determination and the will to push through a campaign during a time in which women were not received well in politics or many other aspects of American society comes from?  It’s a significant reason why I chose her.  Also, she is a native Kentuckian and was a public school teacher, something I someday hope to relate to.

            Born in 1867 as Mary Elliot into an affluent family, she attended college at Barboursville College in West Virginia before completing her education at the University of Kentucky.  She then became a school teacher and married a man named William “Harvey” Flannery and moved to Pike County, Kentucky due to her husband’s job.  It was here where Flannery began her career as a writer, writing columns for the Ashland Daily advocating legislation for women’s rights.  Through her articles in the newspaper Flannery was able to muster support for her cause and by 1921, only a year after womens’ suffrage had become constitutional law, won a seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives by a 250 vote margin.  She continued her work in politics and journalism until her death in 1933 being an active voice for women in Kentucky, the south, and the entire United States.  She was a member of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, the General Federation of Women club, Daughter’s of the Revolution, and founded a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  She also had an unsuccessful run at Secretary of State in 1923.  Keep in mind that she was able to accomplish all of this while raising 5 children!

            Mary Elliot Flannery was one of the most influential women of Kentucky and the civil rights and women’s suffrage movement.  Researching the life and work of such a prominent figure will help to highlight a hero and progressive leader of both the commonwealth and women’s history.

New Women of Kentucky

September 21, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Political history

Starting in the 19th century and continuing all the way up until today, women have been creating and demonstrating themselves in ways that are new to a society historically dominated by men. These new women of the mid to late 19th century and early 20th century have shown themselves to men across America, that they can be an independent, intelligent and powerful force. Certain women believed that the lifestyle of a submissive, quiet housewife was not the life they wanted to live. Emma Guy Cromwell and Mary Elliott Flanery from Kentucky were two of these new women.[1]

Historical Marker about Mary E. Flanery at Elliott Hall, 2716 Panola St., Catlettsburg, KYThese women believed that they were capable of contributing more to their communities. They wanted to provide service and influence positive change throughout the region, including the continued suffrage of women. Flanery sought a higher education and was able to attend Barbourville College in West Virginia and the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington Kentucky.  She was forced to fight a gender barrier while seeking a higher education because at the time it was rare for young women to attend college, let alone two different colleges that were mostly filled with men. Flanery also participated in several women’s clubs, which were positive for all women involved. They were able to go out into the community and make a difference with the work by clubs such as Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and the Cattlesburg Women’s Literary Club. By helping other women become more independent through education, Flanery was making a difference with these clubs. Mary Flanery also demonstrated her will to improve women’s disposition in Kentucky by involving herself in political life. She became the first women in the Kentucky legislator just one year after women received the right to vote in 1921.

Emma Guy Cromwell

Emma Guy Cromwell

On the other side of the state Emma Cromwell was also doing everything she could to raise the social, political and importance of women in Kentucky society. She too sought higher education and left her home in Kentucky to travel to Gallatin, Tennessee to attend Howard Female College and shortly after completion began teaching school back in Scottsville, Kentucky. She adamantly participated in women’s clubs like D.A.R., Y.W.C.A. and the Parent Teachers Association (P.T.A.) and was elected to state librarian 24 years before women could even vote in 1896. Cromwell pursued a political career after the death of her husband and became the first women to be elected to a statewide position when in 1923 she became the secretary of state for Kentucky and in 1927 she became the first women to be the state treasurer. Both of these women were dedicated to making women of both Kentucky and the United States more prominent, intelligent and important through club work, the spread of education and the ability to reach out to numerous women across the state due to their political careers.

[1] Rebecca S. Hanly, “Emma Guy Cromwell and Mary Elliott Flannery: Pioneers for Women in Kentucky Politics,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 99 (Summer 2001), 289.

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