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by mookygc

More is Less

February 5, 2013 in Oral history, Social history

I can not pretend to know much, if anything about life before the 1990s, especially not as an African American, and I have no basis to know what it was like to grow up in Kentucky, or anywhere else for that matter, during the civil rights movements, and the decades of strife that faced our ancestors.

By most accounts, living in Kentucky as an African American would have been terrifying in the early twentieth century. Jennie Wilson, who was born in 1900, spoke in an interview about “Third Monday”, the day of the month when all the white men would get drunk and go harass anyone who was African American: “We always dreaded third Monday we didn’t know what they were going to do. And they didn’t shoot through the house but they shot through the one up on the hill. But they told my father to come out, and he told them to come in; and they didn’t, And my mother was on her knees praying that they wouldn’t come in. ‘Cause she knew they would kill all of us. I don’t know why they hated us so.”

On the other hand, while listening to Reinette Jones speak I was surprised to learn that Kentucky was more ahead of the times in terms of desegregation, especially in schools. I learned that Kentucky had several counties with desegregated schools much earlier than was required by law, and those schools were in fact forced to segregate at one point. There seem to be quite a few contradictions in our history between fact and perception. This research is forcing me to look at things I never would have, and I feel that the more I learn, the less I know.

Not separate nor equal

February 4, 2013 in 1920s-30s, Primary source, Social history

Picture of the cover of

“The Maid Narratives”

In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the “separate but equal” doctrine in the Plessy vs. Ferguson trial. Up until the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954, things in Kentucky and around the United States were anything but separate and definitely not equal. There were the obvious examples of the inequality that occurred in Kentucky. As Suzy Post describes it in her interview, there were white and black water fountains and white and black waiting rooms that no one really took notice to. To those living in Kentucky, this was the norm, an everyday thing. However, where the inequality mixes with there being no separation comes in the terms of the help; the maids that worked to help the white women around the house. It is in these jobs that it is seen that nothing about Kentucky in the early 20th century was separate or equal.

The Maid Narratives is a book written specifically about the black women that helped around the white houses. It tells the story of these women and the things that they had experienced throughout the years; the story of a society that was completely unequal and rarely separated. In fact, in the introduction of the book the authors talk about the paradoxes seen in this time period.

                “Small white children sometimes felt closer to their black caretakers than they did to their mothers, a love that often was not acknowledged by others… Black women servants were sometimes treated like children by the ‘lady of the house,’ but during tough times the white women looked to them for strength and comfort” (Maid).

While these words seem to be very interesting, the stories behind them are even more so. In the book, “Freedom on the Border: An Oral History

Picture of the cover of

“Freedom on the Border”

of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky”, white men and women reveal that these statements are true. Governor Edward Breathitt and Judge James F. Gordon talk about having “black help” in their homes. However, rather than this being a distant relationship, they describe it as one that was quite intimate. They always saw the women who helped their mothers out and became quite fond of them. They both recount memories of playing with these women’s children and saying that during their youth these little black boys were their closest friends. In their youth, there was no separation; color didn’t matter to the children.

However, as they grew from children to young adults, the separation began to occur. They stopped talking to each other outside of the games that they played, the black women stopped bringing over their children to play, and eventually the white teenagers were referred to as Mr. and Ms. Before this age, the “help” had no problem with bringing their children over to play, but as their children grew so did the inequality.

Although Plessy vs. Ferguson ruled that society should be separate but equal, this was far from the reality of life in Kentucky. The black women that helped out in the white homes were often times more of a mother to the white children than the white women were. however, they were treated with little to no respect from these women expect in times of great need. It is in this part of civilization that the greatest divergence from this ruling is seen because not only is it unequal but it is far from being separated.

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“Freedom on the Border:.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013

“The Maid Narratives:.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Greater New Orleans.” The Times-Picayune. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

“Freedom on the Border – An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Kobo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

 

Jennie Hopkins Wilson Interview

January 28, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Oral history

After watching the Jennie Hopkins Wilson interview by KET, reading the first four chapters of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have found many overlaps.  The culture throughout the southern states was similar although states and parts of states were better or worse to blacks than other parts.  After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civil war conditions were not improved in most places. Blacks were chained to the same jobs and people as they were in slavery.

In Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, watchers learn that both her parents were slaves.  Her father ran to freedom in Paducah, Kentucky from Mayfield, Kentucky.  He made the twenty five mile trek so he could join the Union army.  Paducah was supposed to be a free city but when Wilson’s father reached the city he found a great deal of discrimination.  One of Wilson’s most feared moments was on third Mondays of each month.  Those were the days that some of the men in the got drunk and harassed the colored people in city.  Wilson recalls one occasion when some of the men came to her house.  Her parents knew their intent was to kill all of them so when the men called her father out of the house he would not go.  According to Wilson, harassment like this was not uncommon.  Wilson also recalled a story she had heard about lynchings in Paducah.  She said that before she was born (1900) lynchings had become so common in Paducah that the state threatened to take away their courthouse if they hung anyone else.  (After further research into this I did not find an official threat.)

Similar to Jennie Hopkins Wilson and her mother, women from The Maid Narratives held jobs similar to the ones they and their mothers had as slaves.  Many black women cooked and cleaned and took care of children for the white families.  Their role went further than that though.  The families the black maids, also referred to as mammies, worked for often formed special bonds with them.  The children felt especially attached to their maid and the adults of the household would ask for advice from the maids because of their greater amount of life experiences.  Besides their physical and emotional roles to the family, colored maids also had a larger societal meaning for the families they worked for.  The man of the household could prove how wealthy and useful he was by the amount of money he brought in.  Women, on the other hand, used household affairs to prove themselves.  This meant that the better, or larger number of maids you had, the richer you were.  Having a maid became an imperative sign of social status.

Through watching Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, reading parts of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have learned that stories from across the south are quite similar.  Commonalities include harassment, social status of both whites and blacks, and discrimination of all kinds.

 

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http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_jwilson.htm

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/14-non-fiction/9004-maid-narratives-van-wormer

http://www.ci.paducah.ky.us/

http://www.cityofmayfield.org/

 

Persistence of Inequalities

January 28, 2013 in 1960s-1970s

As a student, I’ve heard and read many different accounts of the civil rights movement, but listening to an oral history interview seemed more personal and intimate. I could see how emotional Jennie and Alice Wilson became when they told their stories and somehow, the struggles that African-Americans endured during the days of extreme racism and segregation became more of a reality to me. I doubt the effect would be quite the same if I were reading a book or watching a fictional account in a movie.

The fact that these women came from Kentucky also made the interviews more poignant. As an African-American with very protective parents, I was very much shielded from racism and thankfully never had any overt racist encounters growing up, but it is interesting to learn Kentucky’s history of racial relations and see how things have changed since then.

I felt like I could relate the most to Alice because of her personal struggles when she went to high school. She and her small group of friends were the only African-Americans at her school, making it difficult for them not to feel out of place. I didn’t always think about this, but there were moments when I would count the number of African-Americans in my classes. Often times, I would either be the only one or there would be a small handful of us.

Young girl protesting segregation

The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was the main focus of the civil rights era. Schools and other public places were segregated, allowing overt racist encounters to become a common occurrence. Jim Crow laws also legitimized segregation as a normality in American society. There were separate schools for whites and African-Americans, but by no means were these different groups getting the same education.

My high school wasn’t exactly predominately white, but there was an overwhelming number of African-Americans in the lower Comprehensive classes compared to higher Advanced classes, which I took. Interestingly, the Honors classes—which were one level below Advanced and one level above Comprehensive—were much more diverse, but for some reason, the number of minorities dwindled when it came to Advanced classes. I had a diverse group of friends anyway and no one was racist at my school as far as I could tell, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a way to fix this sort of separation.

I think this stigma further perpetuates the idea that African-Americans are sometimes seen as inferior to other races. This hits home for me because I feel like I am constantly trying to surpass the expectations society has for us. Even though racism is not quite as huge an issue as it used to be, the stereotypes still exist in hidden forms. I can’t help but ask: Is there a way to expose the inequalities that underlie our institutions? And if so, how do we get rid of them?

Resources

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 28 January 2013.

Inequality within Equality

January 27, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

Photograph of Jennie Wilson, 102

Jennie Wilson, 102

According to the oral history interview with 102-year-old Jennie Wilson, African Americans in Kentucky experienced intense discrimination especially in the realm of education. Jennie describes fearing for her safety at home and hearing of horrendous public displays of racism but also explains how she was only permitted to receive six years of education. Her education, received from her mother and father and other members of the community, included instruction on how to cook and clean and do whatever necessary to provide for your family.

Jennie went on to have four children, all of which would graduate from college. Jennie’s daughter, Alice Wilson, launched a very important movement for the education of African Americans and the integration of schools in Mayfield, Kentucky. Alice and a group of her friends chose to integrate their all-white high school independently at age 14. In her portion of the interview, Alice Wilson says that the integration was extremely unexpected and she and her friends had no idea how their actions would be received. As a group of typical teenagers, Alice and her friends entered Mayfield High School to register for school. When she was admitted, the first thing she noticed was the distinction in text books and the fact that the school remained segregated within even though it had been integrated in the eye of the public. The observations from within the school that Alice shares closely parallel efforts to desegregate across much of the southern United States. Alice’s commentary regarding the inequality experienced although she was admitted to attend the school is representative of prolonged injustice for African American education in Kentucky and across the nation following the overturned rule of the “Separate but Equal” doctrine in 1954.

Intregration of public schools

Intregration of public schools

In expressing her pride for her daughter’s actions, Jennie Wilson explains that her feet have endured quite a lot in her 102 years including the transformation of a society. She came from a world of “scary times” and she and many other members of her community thought they would merely have to learn “how to deal with society” rather than be accepted as an active and equal member.

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Resources:

“KET | Living the Story | Jennie Hopkins Wilson.” Living the Story: The Rest of the Story. Web. 27 January 2013.

“US History/Eisenhower Civil RIghts Fifties.” Wikibooks. Web. 27 January 2013.

“Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.” Notable Kentucky African Americans. Web. 27 January 2013

Citizenship

January 23, 2013 in 1920s-30s, Political history, Religious history, Social history

Image of the pamphlet, Citizenship: A Manual for Voters by Emma Guy Cromwell

Citizenship: A Manual for Voters by Emma Guy Cromwell

Without question, the definition of citizenship is continuously modified in America to suit those who identify themselves as United States citizens. The residents of this nation have continuously sought out representation and have constructed a governmental institution for support and stability and thus guidelines developed regarding conduct within the nation. In Emma Guy Cromwell’s Citizenship: A Manual for Voters, citizenship largely refers to the duty of citizens to vote, particularly an appeal to women who had recently received the right. Additionally, women of this time were encouraged to have a political opinion and to apply their skills and abilities to aid the community. Today, citizenship encompasses similar trends which particularly parallel the history of women in Kentucky.  Today’s understanding of the term acknowledges civic activity while coming to relinquish national religious sentiments in order to uphold the rights of both genders recognized by the government.

Cromwell undoubtedly believed in the value of defining a model citizen in the effort to construct an ideal society. Her values however, included duties “to improve and protect the home, the church and the community” (Introduction). She includes men and women in this scope but does not neglect the inequalities in representation as she plainly states the division of labor within the state and national governments. Voting has been largely expanded since the publication of this document, however, the ideals Cromwell establishes hold much weight in today’s society in term of political apathy. When women earned the right to vote, Kentucky established the League of Women Voters which encouraged women “to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy”. While the discrepancy of Cromwell’s era fell among racial tensions, the complex issue today is separated by age groups. The youth are seen as the most likely group to invoke change in today’s society but also compose the most apathetic group. Cromwell suggests, “We are not patriotic unless we respond to the call of our government” and that “a person with no opinion on public affairs is a coward and unpatriotic” (Chapter V). Citizenship is recognized as the “rights to have rights” (Citizenship in the United States) and encompasses the duty of all eligible people to exercise their political rights including the power of electing officials.

Portrait of Emma Guy Cromwell

Emma Guy Cromwell

Furthermore, an emphasis on strong community involvement and an encouraged plea to promote relevant global issues has taken root in addition to the existing promotion of local civic issues. Environmental concern has been factored into the national political agenda today and has also come to be part of the definition of citizenship as the right of a citizen to take up interest in issues of national concern. For example, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization promotes women who “are empowered as decision-makers and leaders, especially in environmental and sustainable development arenas”.

Most notably, Cromwell consistently acknowledges the governmental body’s commitment to religion as it should defend the church. She explains, both the state and national conventions are “opened with prayer” (Chapter VI). This has largely been abandoned in today’s definition of citizenship because the ideal citizen would respect the differences that define Americans and various communities. Kentucky’s government, in particular, has revised its documents to acknowledge and respect the separation of church and state especially as it pertains to the sector of public education, to which all students are entitled. (See Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky).

Resources:

Cromwell, Emma Guy (1920). Citizenship: A Manual for Voters. Frankfort, Kentucky: Emma Guy Cromwell. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25598/25598-h/25598-h.htm.

History, League of Women Voters of Kentucky

Women’s Leadership, WEDO

 

Perspectives of Teachers on Integration in Kentucky

April 25, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Social history

Perspectives of Teachers on Integration in Kentucky

The integration of the nation’s public school systems, as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, caused a furor among most Southern states.  The general strategy that was established early on was to comply with the decision as slowly as possible through delay after delay, and violent incidents were not uncommon.  One Southern state that escaped the resulting upheaval was Kentucky.

From the outset, the outlook for integration in Kentucky was one of cautious optimism.  According to A. Lee Coleman, even the governor of the state predicted that Kentucky’s schools would be the easiest to integrate in the South; this sentiment would have arguably been political suicide had it not been correct, especially in states such as Alabama or Mississippi.  In his article in the Journal of Negro Education, written in 1955 – and which also gives the impression of being written for the purpose of encouraging his fellow educators – Coleman echoes the governor’s optimism, stating a number of compelling reasons as to why he believes this to be the case, which include the blindingly fast integration of colleges in Kentucky and the general lack of strong feelings among the white population.

Even in the “easiest state to integrate,” however, integration would not be without its challenges.  The main worry that Coleman seemed to have was that progress, while more substantial than the rest of the South, would prove to be positively glacial.  Legal wrangling over several state laws and their interaction with the Supreme Court decision, along with an administrative decision to ease the state into integration slowly to allow the population a chance to adjust, promised to slow the process to a painful crawl.  All of this can likely be attributed to the normal operating speed of a governing body whose capitol building is not under threat of being razed by angry citizens, rather than a concerted effort to delay the process as in the other Southern states.

Twelve years after Coleman had published his hopeful piece in the Journal of Negro Education, Eddie W. Morris published his own article regarding integration in the same publication.  By then, the integration of the student body of the public schools in Kentucky had been achieved very smoothly, with no especially major incidents.  Unfortunately, a problem which had not been predicted by Coleman had arisen:  the integration of the teachers and faculty.

Those Black teachers that had not lost their jobs outright – which effectively included most of those without training or tenure – had almost all taken a demotion when they were integrated with White faculty at other facilities.  Additionally, new Black teachers had not been hired in a number of years.  While budgetary concerns may have been to blame for at least some of these incidents (due to an effective surplus of teaching staff), the fact that the Black faculty members were being treated in such a manner almost exclusively indicated that integration had not been fully completed for everyone involved in the public school system.

Morris blamed this lack of faculty integration on several factors.  He asserted that administrators believed that black teachers in positions of power over white students would cause an uproar amongst parents – even though he says that there was no indication whatsoever that this would be the case – as well as a belief that black teachers were less qualified than their White counterparts.  He also said that prejudice among leadership councils on a community level who influenced the people on the school board played a part.  His plea was to keep qualified teachers in the Bluegrass, as many Black teachers were leaving for other states and better opportunities due to this treatment.

While Kentucky was easily the most open and accepting of the Southern states of integration, it was most certainly not integrated without its share of problems, as indicated by the continuing discrimination against Black faculty members over a decade after the initial decision.  Even though the violence, chaos, and terror that marked the event in other Southern states did not surface in the Bluegrass, it is important not to allow the dramatic events elsewhere to overshadow the challenges and triumphs of integration in Kentucky.

References:

A. Lee Coleman, “Desegregation of Public Schools in Kentucky – One Year Afterward,” The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 1955: 248-257.

Eddie W. Morris, “Facts and Factors of Faculty Desegregation in Kentucky,” The Journal of Negro Education 36:1 (Winter, 1967) 75-77.

 

Carl D. Perkins: Appalachia’s Voice in Washington

April 20, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Political history

Carl Dewey Perkins served the people of eastern Kentucky as their 7th Congressional District U.S Congressman from 1949 until his death on August 3, 1984 and during those 36 years the Knott County Democrat became one of the most powerful voices in Congress. Born in Hindman, Kentucky on October 15, 1912, Perkins attended local schools and later would go on to earn his law degree and hold several local and state political offices, but it was his time in Washington D.C and his service to the people of his native eastern Kentucky and Appalachia that he will be forever best known for.

Described as a ‘iron horse” for the people of Appalachia it did not take Perkins long to gain national recognition. After taking office as Kentucky’s 7th District Congressman on January 3, 1949, Perkins became an early supporter of civil rights by backing President Harry Truman’s attempt to establish a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FPEC) in 1950. A permanent FEPC called for anti-lynching legislation and the abolishment of the Poll Tax among others. The bill was passed by the U.S House but the U.S Senate’s Southern Democrats “filibustered” the bill and it failed in the U.S Senate. Over the next decade Perkins continued to support the call for civil rights in America and he was one of only eleven Southern Democrats to support and vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also in 1964 Congressman Perkins became a central part of the Lyndon Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty in the U.S Congress. One of those bills was the creation of the U.S Job Corps under the Economic Opportunity Act, the Job Corps provides a free education and training program that helps the youth of America learn a career, earn their high school diploma/ GED, and find a good paying job once completed. Since 1964, Job Corps has served over 2 million young people and currently serves around 60,000 youths throughout the U.S each year. Perkins’ legacy while in Washington would have to be his relentless work for the under-privileged in America, especially eastern Kentucky and Appalachia. He became chairman of the U.S House’s Committee on Education and Labor in 1967 and held that position until his death in 1984. During that time he sponsored and backed many of the modern public schools federal legislation like the free school lunch program and vocational education which is currently known as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006. The federal student loan program or better known as the Perkins Loan also honors his name and has given the opportunity for thousands of Americans to attend college in the U.S. Also Perkins was seen as a strong advocate of the Head Start program in America.

Another lasting legacy that Perkins created was perhaps felt most by the people he served for  those 36 in Congress and that was he never forgot where he came from or who he worked for. He made frequent trips from Washington to the area and knew many of his constitutes by their first name. He stood up for his mountain people and the oppressed in America and never quit until he was satisfied that everyone was getting a fair shake no matter their economic status or background. Congressman Perkins has been decreased for nearly 30 years now, but the impact he made in America, especially in Appalachia will live on for generations to come. Carl D. Perkins’ personal and political papers are stored in the Archives section of the library at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.

Works Cited

Photo Courtesy of WSGS Radio Station, Hazard, Kentucky  www.wsgs.com

www.kentuckystewarts.com/JasperByrd/HTMDocs/CarlPerkins.htm

http://www2.ed.gov/policy/sectech/leg/perkins/index.html

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=SRMhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=YHMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3614%2C817641

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=XfAaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UUcEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6492%2C746650

Dr. Grace Marilynn James: Serving the Underserved

April 20, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

Just this year, on March 16, Dr. Grace Marilynn James was inducted into the Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit in Frankfort, an honor given to outstanding women in Kentucky history by the Kentucky Commission on Women.  While relatively unknown to many, Dr. James was an important figure in the struggle against both racial and economic injustice.

Grace James was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1923. She was a very educated woman, beginning her post-secondary education at West Virginia State College.  After completing her post-graduate work there and at the University of Chicago, she entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated with an M.D. in 1950.  Upon earning her M.D., James moved to New York City and completed an internship and pediatric residency at Harlem Hospital; while there, she also became a clinical fellow at both Babies’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic.  James further expanded her formal training by studying child psychiatry at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens Village and by becoming a fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University’s Jacobi Hospital, where she practiced caring for children with disabilities.(1)

In a fellowship application addressed to the National Urban League, James explained that she had wanted to go to medical school because she had an “interest in human suffering,” that of African Americans in particular.  She further noted that she had been inspired by a visit to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx to help “the ones who needed to be taught, educated and given a chance to learn sound principles of health.”(2)

James moved to Louisville in 1953, where she began teaching at the University of Louisville in a non-paying, part-time post; she was the first African American woman on the faculty at Louisville’s School of Medicine, and she continued teaching at the university for twenty-five years.(2)  When James moved to Louisville, the city hospitals were segregated by law.  Although James became the first African American woman to be granted membership in the Jefferson County Medical Society, she still had to defend her status to the medical community.(3)  Not only did she face discrimination from white practitioners because she was black, she was criticized by both white and black men for being a woman in this field and for choosing to serve the poorest clients.  James realized that there were many people other doctors were hesitant to serve because they were too poor to afford services.  James also saw that many doctors would not serve single mothers and their children.

Soon after moving to Louisville, James opened a private pediatrics practice and a walk-in clinic that would serve the impoverished residents of Louisville’s West End neighborhoods.(4)  She accepted all patients that came through her clinic, regardless of whether they could pay.  James became an advocate for both preventative care and universal health care, and spoke about the growing infant mortality rate among black babies and about the medically underserved black community.  At her own expense, James kept items such as diapers, blankets, clothes, and books on hand for the poor mothers that needed them, all at her own expense.(3)

Dr. James’ career was long and distinguished.  She headed the Council on Urban Education and established the West Louisville Health Education Program.  She founded the Teen Awareness Project, its purpose to reduce the teenage birth rate among blacks.  James also became president of the Louisville chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.(1)  Eventually, she became affiliated with eight Louisville-area hospitals and became the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children’s Hospital.(4)

 

 

(1)  Kleber, John.  The Encyclopedia of Louisville.  (Lexington:  University Press of Kentucky, 2001).  Pp. 430-431

(2)  http://louisville.edu/uofltoday/campus-news/kentucky-commission-on-women-honors-former-faculty-member

(3)  http://women.ky.gov/about/kwr.htm

(4)  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_165.html

Nurses In Eastern Kentucky

April 19, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

Everyone knows that since its founding in 1881, the American Red Cross has done more in the emergency field of aid than any other organization of its kind. It helps as relief aid, war victim’s support, and other disaster relief across America and even the world. But in some parts of rural Kentucky in the late 1910s and 20s, it was hard to find these public service operations because of the hazardous mountain ranges that are in the eastern part of the state. It goes to a place where you leave the comfort of the city and the railroad, and go into the rural mountain style of life. To a place where the knowledge and cures of Red Cross nurses would help save many lives.

While this type of rural living has a certain charm, it comes without proper (health) care for the most part. There are isolated cabins with neighbors living up to several miles away, slopes of the mountains that leave many questioning the safety, and many valley ways. There are few schools that are several miles apart as well with teachers who devote themselves to teach children who are less than privileged than other parts of the state. That includes raising health awareness and learning how to take care of themselves when they are sick. Money is always often very tight in those parts of the country (a tiny bit of cash and items like milk or eggs are bartered as payment sometimes), so being able to go see a doctor in a larger city when sick would not be very likely happen.

So instead, a small hospital was set up in connection with these schools as part of a way to help take care of people. Several nurses would go make household calls instead of having people come to them, handling all sorts of problems and illnesses. It was not just nursing companies that were having a hand in this either. Sanitary cooperation’s were working with water rights and privileges, disease facilities like those for tuberculosis were trying to help and even the United States Public Health Services were trying to get an official hospital train to these certain parts of eastern Kentucky in order to help those who did not have easy access to hospitals. Nurses also help abandoned orphans find other suitable homes once their parents die or are no longer able to take care of them.

These “mountain nurses” as they were often called would ride horse back from town to town to help any and everybody that she could while she was there. Things like childbirth midwives were very needed, as there were doctors around but not a single nurse most of the time. Having nurses in the mountains of eastern Kentucky would be a blessing to the people at this time. The idea of having someone personal there for them was new and the welfare of all in the rural mountain areas of Kentucky would be greatly improved because of these nurses.Rivers in parts of eastern Ky.

Even though not necessarily in eastern Kentucky and not directly affiliated with the Red Cross, the Red Cross Hospital and Training Department opened in Louisville. It was founded in 1899 by Dr. Ellis D. Whedbee (whose wife is considered to be the first African-American woman on the Louisville police force), Dr. W. T. Merchant, Dr. Solomon Stone, Dr. E. S. Porter and Dr. William H. Perry. Later in 1905, a second building facility was opened as the only nurse training program for African-Americans in Kentucky. The program was discontinued in 1937 and later re-established in 1948, where it served as a cancer treatment clinic for the people of Louisville and others, and then in 1975 it was closed down for good.

 

-American Red Cross, www.redcross.org
-Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, –http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=2268
Prospective Red Cross Nursing in the Kentucky Mountains (photos also from here), http://www.jstor.org/stable/3404107

 

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