You are browsing the archive for Laura Clay.

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by OneTon

Breckenridge Memory

November 19, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

Growing up in any city, it is human nature to memorize street names. I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky for the majority of my twenty two years. I lived in the east end of town, in a prosperous little city called Saint Matthews. I became very knowledgeable of my surroundings and the streets that I was constantly traveling on. Now that I am older and attending the University of Kentucky, I have had the opportunity to meet new and exciting individuals each day. I recently spoke to an older woman who lives in the neighborhood located on Henry Clay’s former Ashland Farm. The lady was a retired teacher who taught history at Breckenridge Elementary. As we spoke, she revealed impressive knowledge of Madeline McDowell Breckenridge who is one of many famous Kentucky women who fought for suffrage in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Once she dropped Mrs. Breckenridge’s name, I immediately remembered Breckenridge Lane in Louisville and finally understood the importance of the name.

Mrs. Breckenridge was born on May 20, 1872 in Woodlake Kentucky. She grew up on the Ashland Farm and was related to Ephraim McDowell and American Civil War Union General Irvin McDowell. Coming from such a distinctive family, she was raised in the spirit of emancipation and social justice. She received an excellent education in Lexington, Kentucky and Farmington, Connecticut. After that she studied from 1890 to 1894 at the State College (University of Kentucky). She married Desha Breckenridge, the editor of the Lexington Herald but never had children. On November 25, 1920, Madeline McDowell Breckenridge passed away due to Tuberculosis.

 In 1908, Breckinridge became chairman of the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs, performing that duty until 1912. She successfully lobbied to allow women to vote in Kentucky school board elections, and helped secure legislation to create a state library commission and a forestry commission. In 1912, Breckinridge became president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) succeeding her cousin, Laura Clay, who founded the organization. The association became Kentucky’s leading women’s suffrage organization, advocating for women’s right to vote.

During World War I it became increasingly difficult for women to propagate their cause, as the eyes of the nation were focused on the war. Suffrage members thus increased their effort to re-evoke the interest in women’s rights. Breckinridge traveled across the American South, giving a series of speeches in all major cities there. After a long battle for the right to vote, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allowed women the right to vote under official constitutional protection, was finally passed by Congress. Its ratification in Kentucky in January 1920 was largely credited to Breckinridge’s efforts. She lived to cast her first and only vote in the November 1920 election, dying that month at the age of 48.

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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by kcjohn2

Suffrage for All?

September 17, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Social history

There are many pioneers of women’s suffrage. My question is, how progressive were these progressive thinkers?

One of the first trailblazers for women’s suffrage in Kentucky was Laura Clay.  Clay was not only a leader for women’s suffrage in the state of Kentucky, but throughout the entire south. She founded the Equal Rights Association in Fayette County in 1888 and went on to establish the association as one of the leading groups for suffrage in the country. Equal rights evoke a sense of freedom for all. This was not the case to Laura Clay, who was strictly defending the rights of white women. Having grown up in the south, this was the typical mindset of the time. For such a forward thinker, how could this be? The opposite can be said of Sophonisba Breckinridge, a born and bred Kentuckian, who later spent her life in Chicago. Sophonisba spent her life in Chicago dedicated to social reform for all. Not only is she remembered for her social work, but also for her membership in various women’s clubs and most notably the Chicago chapter of the NAACP. Could her more progressive thought come from her move to the north, where people were more likely to have been open minded towards these even more forward thinking thoughts.

It is amazing to see the two different degrees of progressivism and put them into prospective with time and geographical reference. Clay was such a pioneer for the white woman’s suffrage, but yet still did not believe in blacks being afforded these same rights, while Breckinridge was seeking rights for all. These two women show the varying degree of progressive thinking in the early suffrage movement.