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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.

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.

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