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Women Using Business to Reach Equality

December 6, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Political history

An argument about how women would receive equality during the early 1900’s and before the beginning of the civil rights movement and the womens rights movment, some women believed it could be reached by acquiring equality in the finiancial world first. This meant women owning businesses, running bussiness and operating equally on an economic scale with the men in local society. This would be no easy task to accomplish, but many women continued to follow their dream until they either were respected wealthy women who were seen as equal to the men around them or until they failed and were forced to leave the business world for the common lifestyle led by most women in Kenucky during the first 70 years of the twentith century.

One such women that attempted and succeded at acquiring respect and equality among the men in her town of Kentucky was Nelda Barton-Collings from Corbin, Kentucky. With some help from her husband, the couple became wealthy and became owners of numerous businesses in Corbin. Once her husband died, she continued to control all of their businesses herself, but continued collaboration with a business partner that she and her husband had already been associated with prior to her husbands death. She was a natural leader and was the Republican National Committee Woman from Kentucky for 28 years and was the first woman to chair the Kentucky Chambers of Commerce. She recived no college schooling until after her husband passed, but learned mostly through the extended period of time in which she owned businesses. Today she owns with her business partner, nuring homes, newspapers, banks, and a pharmacy in the Corbin, Kentucky area.

Through business and economics, Nelda Barton-Collings was able to achieve equality in her daily life.  She is looked up to by many local women in the area and was able to live life as a equally respectable member in the community, not just as a women from Corbin, Kentucky whose husband owned a lot of businesses. She was able to distinguosh herself from the rest of the women in her town and raised herself above the norm for women from this time period.

by Syle

Julia Britton Hooks

October 6, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Social history

Julia Britton Hooks

Julia B. Hooks,

Julia Britton Hooks lived a life dedicated to helping others. Born in Frankfort, Kentucky, she went on to attend Berea College and was only the second African American woman to graduate from college. Afterwards she went on to teach at Berea College and was the first African American employee of the school teaching music for two years. She was honored with the John G. Fee award from Berea College which honors alumni who gave distinguished service to the community. Hooks eventually moved to Memphis where she founded the Hooks School of Music. 

Known as “The Angel of Beale Street” in Memphis Julie and her husband, Charles F. Hooks, took charge of a detention home for juvenile African American offenders in 1902. Like I said, Julia was dedicated to helping others throughout her life and she continued to work for the institution even after her husband was murdered by one of the juveniles. 

Hooks was also a member of the Memphis branch of the NAACP. Julia’s impact must have ran through her family, because her grandson Benjamin Hooks became executive director of the NAACP in 1977 and served for fifteen years. Julia lived a life of servitude and should be recognized for all of her accomplishments and what she brought to the people around her. As her grandson put it “what trials, what travails, what tribulations we have seen, yet my grandmother had this great sense of duty, and of education.

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.

by Syle

Overcoming Politics

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

After reading Rebecca Hanly’s article on Cromwell and Flannery (“Emma Guy Cromwell and Mary Elliott Flannery: Pioneers for Women in Kentucky Politics,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 99, Summer 2001, pp. 287-301) it made me stop to think about, not only how much the accomplished, but how much they had to continue to overcome throughout their successful careers and lives. To me it seems like after becoming the first two women to be elected into high political office, they would have been able to gain some respect. While to some people they might have, they never stopped having to overcome objectors, and those that as Hanly put it “not ready for women in public office”. Yet this never stopped them from achieving their goals, which shows how courageous and strong of women they really were. No matter how great of a feat they overcame, it seemed there was just another obstacle waiting for them. Flanery for example became the first woman elected to the southern state legislature, an amazing accomplishment, and was received with comments like “Flanery’s victory was mostly a feat of heredity”. This seemed to only push her harder though and make her even stronger. Not everybody was against it however, and she was named “as a possible candidate for the speakership of the lower house”. To me this shows that although Flanery (as well as Cromwell) were up against what seemed to be impossible odds at times, women were gaining political power due to the courage and leadership shown by women like Flanery and Cromwell. I do not believe they did it for themselves either, but more for all women to gain the respect that they deserved. Flanery shows this when she said “All I want to do is serve my constituents in the manner in which they wished to be served”.  While overcoming so much throughout their careers, these two women were very influential to women all over and for their rights.

by Measha

Mary Breckinridge

September 17, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965), a registered nurse, dedicated her life to improving the health of women and children.  In her autobiography written in 1952, she recalled, “After I click had met British nurse-midwives, first in France and then on my visits to London, it grew upon me that nurse-midwifery was the logical response to the needs of the young child in rural America.”  She Breckinridge decided to tackle the health problems of children and their mothers in eastern Kentucky.

Established the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in 1925
Founded a hospital that served rural families across southeastern Kentucky mountains in an area ranging about 700 square miles
FNS included a service in which nurse-midwives visited clients at their homes
The death of mothers in childbirth in Leslie County, Kentucky, dropped “from the highest in the country to well below the national average (Gina Castlenovo, Biography of Mary Breckinridge, The Center for Nursing Advocacy, Inc., 2003).”


The American College of Nurse Midwives recognizes Breckinridge as “the first to bring nurse-midwifery to the United States.”  In 1982, Breckinridge was inducted into the American Nurses Association’s Hall of Fame.

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