You are browsing the archive for Intellectual history.

by becca

Eleanor Jordan

December 8, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Oral history, Political history, Primary source, Social history

UK's HIS351 class and guests at AASRP Dialogues on Race featuring Eleanor Jordan with Senator Georgia Davis Powers, December 2, 2010Last Thursday our class was privileged to hear not one, but two wonderful women speak about their influential lives (see the UK press release on this event with Senator Georgia Davis Powers). One of those women was Eleanor Jordan.

Eleanor Jordan was born in Louisville in 1953. Although she was young when a lot of the civil rights movements were taking place she still recalls feeling discriminated against. In an interview with the Kentucky Historical Society, Eleanor tells a story of when she really realized that she was treated differently than everyone else, even though she didn’t understand why.

Eleanor Jordan, Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Women

Eleanor Jordan, Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, facilitating the UK AASRP Dialogues on Race, "Sisters in the Struggle," at MLK Jr. Cultural Center, December 2, 2010

She remembers often taking car rides with her father, mother, and her brothers and sisters to go get fresh air (since they didn’t have air conditioning) and ice cream as a family. On these car rides they would pass an amusement park that was close to her neighborhood. She recalls seeing flashing lights, hearing children screaming with joy on the roller coasters, and smelling the cotton candy in the air. As they would drive past the amusement park, Eleanor and her brothers and sisters would ask their parents if they could go to it. She remembers her father saying no and she asked why. That’s when her mother’s eyes “would always fill up with tears” and there would be an overwhelming silence in the car. Her mother would always reassure her that one day she would be able to go.

Little instances like that can have huge impacts on the people affected, but Eleanor Jordan did not let discrimination hold her back. She eventually served in the Kentucky House of Representatives for four years. She also was the ombudsman for the Cabinet for Families and Children. Governor Steve Beshear appointed her, the first African-American executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women. Eleanor Jordan is an inspiration to everyone and we were so lucky to be in her presence last week.

More than Just a Senator

December 6, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Intellectual history, Political history, Primary source, Social history

Georgia Davis Powers was extremely influential for all women and the African American community through her actions and life. She became the first African American to hold a seat in the Senate and she became the first women to hold a seat in the Senate. Powers had to cross not only the racial barriers of the time, but also the gender barriers because she is a black women. Georgia Davis Powers was born in Springfield, Kentucky on October 19, 1923 and she was born a natural leader.

Prior to her political careear that begun in 1967, Georgia Davis Powers was extremely involved in the civil rights movement for all African Americans. She led many small movements through out Kentucky for several years until 1964. In 1964 she was able to convince Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson to come to Kentucky for a march on the state capital of Frankfort. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s brother was a minister in Louisville and was able to help organize the march on Frankfort with Georgia Davis Powers.

Three years after the march, Powers was elected to the United States Senate, where she remained a senator for five consecutive terms, or for 21 years. She is quoted in saying that she looked at her senate years as a “mission” to accomplish as many things for equality among all people. She also credits god for giving her the strength to continue on through her mission for equality throuhg out her life and political careear.

Senator Powers also traveled to Memphis in April of 1968 at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was present at the hotel when he was shot. In an interview of Senator Powers she retells the story and speaks of the iincident in which she was standing over the body and King and realized that he was dead. She has forever been a living example of how people should live their lives. Her devotion for equality amongst races and gender took her to heights few people have been to. Georgia Davis Powers was and still is a great leader for equality and for the civil rights movement and she will forever be remembered as one of the most influential and great women of all time.

Information also gathered from December 2, 2010 meeting with Mrs. Powers at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center on the University of Kentucky campus for  the “Sisters in the Struggle” video demonstartion.

by OneTon

First Woman Dentist in Kentucky

December 1, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Intellectual history

The first woman dentist in Kentucky was born near Warsaw, Kentucky in 1842. This well educated young woman accomplished many obstacles before her death in 1922. Lucy Dupey Montiz had a midlife career change before committing herself to the study of dentistry. A wife, mother, school teacher, and finally a dentist, Mrs. Montiz showed determination as she became Kentucky’s first female dentist.

A graduate from the Cincinnati College of Dental Surgery, Mrs. Montiz, showed courage and an abundant amount of knowledge as she graduated with honors in 1889. Dentistry was primarily a career for males which is why Mrs. Montiz is such an incredible woman in the history of Kentucky. Her feat is more amazing by the fact that she was listed as Kentucky’s only female dentist at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

She was active in dentistry til 1921 and had to remove herself due to health reasons. She passed away a year later. Mrs. Lucy Dupey Montiz was a stunning woman, but was given few awards because of her gender. This author believes thanks is in order for all women who made great strives to better themselves and others around them!

Elizabeth Hardwick

November 30, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Social history

Elizabeth Hardwick was a female novelist and feminist born in Lexington, Kentucky circa 1916.  Her name is often overlooked in history today and for what reason?  There are unfortunately many reasons why this woman who has contributed so much to the world of literature and feminism is so often ignored by historians.

Ms. Hardwick was a native of Kentucky and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1939.  She was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1947 and was first published by Harper’s in 1959, solidifying her future as one of the most influential female American writers.  Her first featured article was a piece titled “The Decline of Book Reviewing” in which she highly criticized book critiques that were done by prominent male authors and historians and even the New York Times.  Her criticism of book reviews inspired her to start a book review society of her own with the help of several other authors and scholars, including poet Robert Lowell, whom would eventually be her husband.

Overall, Ms. Hardwick published many novels including “The Ghostly Lover”, “The Simple Truth”, and “Sleepless Nights” all of which were top sellers.  She also continued to mentor and teach writing seminars at Barnard College and Columbia University through the 1970’s and 80’s.

Why is a majority of her work not made widely known throughout the commonwealth and the rest of the country?  How is a woman so magnificent reduced to near non-existence after leading such a well educated and exciting life?  There is reason to believe that being female has played a large role in Ms. Hardwick’s dissappearing act.  Other reasons include the lack of interest in literature and he rlast piece of work being published over 12 years ago.  Even so, Elizabeth Hardwick’s work and dedication to literature and society must be better recognized and given more notoriety.

Wiki Press.  Wikipedia.  Elizabeth Hardwick.  Oct. 31 2010.  30 November 2010.

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.

Alice Allison Dunnigan

November 15, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Historical Decades, Historiography, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906–1983)

Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906–1983)

 Alice Allison Dunnigan was born to a farmer in Russelville, Kentucky in 1906 and grew up unwanted by her grandmother for not being “black enough” and eventually turning into one of the most accomplished African American female journalists.

Ms. Dunnigan took on many responsibilties early, cooking meals, ironing for her mother and helping her father eith chores on the farm.  Her desire for an education could have risen from being exposed to a lifestyle of tedious work at such a young age.  Either way, she wanted an education but was unsure of how to aquire one being an African American female in the south.  With the constraints put on her by the oppresive society of the times, Alice began to write.  And by age fourteen she had established a weekly column in the Owensboro Enterprise titled “Home Town News”.  She sold her paper for 5 cents, keeping 3 cents for herself.

After high school she reached her dream of attending college, enrolled in a teacher training course, but continued to write, publishing articles in newspapers in Hopkinsville, Paducah, and Louisville.  Even though she began to teach at age eighteen, she taught at all black schools and was not paid during summer months.  She was forced to pick up various jobs in order to make ends meet while school was out of session.  One of those jobs was working for a Louisville newspaper in which again she published her own stories titled “Scribbles from Alice’s Scrapbook.”

In 1942, however, Alice lost her teaching job when her school closed.  She moved to Washington, D.C. to find work and found it in the Associated Negro Press.  The ANP sent stories to 112 weekly newspapers acrosss the country and some foreign countries.  Although she was only part-time, after World War II she was hired as a full time reporter.  Ms. Dunnigan eventually secured a capitol press pass, allowing her to cover news events of the Congress which were generally kept off limits to the public and most reporters, and especially females and African Americans.  By gaining a capitol press pass she became the first black female to do so.

Her career with the ANP took off and Alice found herself covering all three branches of government and even sports news.  In 1948 she covered the campaign trail of Harry Truman with all male reporters.  In 1961 President Kennedy named her Education Consultant for the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee.  In 1967 she toured around the country with Lady Bird Johnson visiting Schools across the nation and checking on the progress of American education.  And from 1967 to 1971 she worked on the Council on Youth Opportunity for both president Johnson and president Nixon.  After retiring from her work as a political activist, Ms. Dunnigan wrote a book documenting her life story titled A Black Woman’s Experience-From Schoolhouse to White House and published another book in 1982 titled The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians.  Ms. Dunnigan always dreamed of accomplishing equal opportunities with men, stating “I hope to live to see an ordinary woman go as far as an ordinary man.  A woman has to work twice as hard” (Crowe-Carraco 56).

Alice Allison Dunnigan did what was essentially impossible for a woman of her time.  Born at the turn of the 20th century, in an era in which women could not vote and African Americans were regarded legally as an inferior race, Ms. Dunnigan accomplished what most women of her background could only dream of.  What makes Alice different from other women who came from the same status as herself?  Where does a woman such as Alice get the motivation and desire to aspire to greatness?  Whatever the case, it is no secret that Alice Allison Dunnigan was one of the original trailblazers not only for women of Kentucky, but for African Americans and women everywhere.


Crowe-Carraco, Carol.  Women Who Made a Difference.  Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1989.
Dawson, Nancy J. “Alice Allison Dunnigan: Led the Fight for Black Journalists,” The Crisis (July-August 2007), 39-41.

Hundred Years Later: Has Anything Changed?

November 11, 2010 in Intellectual history, Social history

Four Families in One School

Cora Wilson Stewart Moonlight School

A constant role that women have taken on throughout Kentucky’s history is the role of educator.  Despite efforts by countless teachers, Kentucky’s public education system has steadily been at the bottom of the nation wide average for graduating and for diversity among staff. Almost 100 years age in 1911, a woman named Cora Wilson Stewart started the moonlight classes across Kentucky, an attempt to teach adults how to read and write. This was picked up by other states and countries as a plausible way to decrease the illeteracy rate among adults. On the first night of class 1200 people went to the 50 different school houses across the state to get their first reading lesson.[1] Despite her efforts Kentucky is still at the bottom of the totum pole and the literacy rate is still low.

Today in our public schools the graduation rate for black students is 11% less than that of white students and 24% less than that of asian students. The minority teachers are also missing in the classroom because despite minorities being 13% of the student population, the minority teachers are only 4.5% of all teachers.[2] Despite the small improvement over the past hundred years we must stay vigilant. Facts such as these should be seen as motivators for my generation to improve and work on these issues. Why is black graduation rates lower than whites? Why are the minority teachers a lower percentage?

I think to answer these questions we have to look at the enviornment in which people are being raised. The institutional racism in our country needs to be addressed and changed. Without brave women like Coral Wilson Stewart, where would be today? Education is our future and we need to find  new ways to guarentee that all public education is the same all across the country. Race, gender and social class should never play a part in how education is crafted and shaped. We all deserve equal education.


Moonlight school image is from the Cora Wilson Stewart Photographic Collection, ca. 1900-1940: pa58m25 University of Kentucky, digitized 1-20-2002 for the Kentuckiana Digital Library,

by Mary

Taking another look at influential women in Kentucky: Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks)

November 1, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

bell hooksGloria Jean Watkins better known as bell hooks (her pen name) is a very influential woman that has come from Kentucky.  She has written multiple books that bring light the injustice that women go through in our patriarchal society.  Some of her books are even used at the University of Kentucky in gender study classes.  Watkins is a social activist that ties in race and gender to get her message out about how women are treated as lesser individuals than men.  

Watkins was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952 to a working class African American family.  Watkins grew up in segregated schools but in high school was exposed to the integration of black and white schools in her region.  She has written about her accounts and the difficulty of going from an all black school to an integrated school where most of the children and teachers were white.  This is where she first saw the role that gender and race played into our society.

Her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism explores the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women.  She has published 30 books that explore the ideas of feminism, race, class and gender.  She discusses how we learn our gender roles from an early age so we are accustomed to women being treated unfairly and not equal to men.  Watkins has taught at Yale, but she now works for Berea College in Kentucky as Distinguished Professor in residence, she has expressed that she wanted to return to her home of Kentucky.

She speaks of how loving communities (see for example her articles in Shambhala Sun) can help to overcome the inequalities that race and gender have put into our society.  I think that she should be considered an influential woman of Kentucky because she puts limelight on the unfair treatment of women in society and incorporates race with these injustices.  Although it does not really have to do with the history of Kentucky she has everything to do with the treatment of women in history and how it affects women today in our patriarchal society.

Virginia Durr and her work with Anne Braden

October 26, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Historical Decades, Historiography, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

Virginia and Clifford Durr
Virginia and Clifford Durr, courtesy of Birmingham Public Library Archives

Virginia Durr was born into a white, privileged family and received her education from a small college in the northeast United States.  So how did someone such as herself become an active leader against segregation and racism in the south?

She was born in Birmingham, Alabama and moved back there after college.  There she met her husband as well but they moved to Washington, D.C. and became inspired by the New Deal.  In didn’t take long for Durr to become aquainted to her new home as she joined the Women’s National Democratic Club and worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to get the poll tax abolished.  Ms. Durr also ran for Senate in the state of Virginia and was one of the founding members of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW).

Her Kentucky ties lie within her friendship with Anne Braden, a southern white female activist for civil rights.  Ms. Durr became friends with Braden after Braden had learned through Durr of a 1958 group of white Montgomery churchwomen who had arranged an interracial meeting but were forced to stop due to the harrassment they received.  The women were subjected to obscene phone calls, denounced as being part of the “communist-jewish conspiracy”, and ostricsized by their own family members.

Both Durr and Braden knew the importance of instilling confidence in the few that went against white racism at the time and began to work together.  It’s intereting how both Durr and Braden found each other and poses the question: did their partnership reflect their southern upbringing? Or did it pertain more to the fact that they shared similar motives and ideals?  Or were these ideals reinforced from their southern upbringing?  wiki group. 13 October 2010.  26 October 2010.

Fosl, Catherine.  Subversive Southerner.  University Press of Kentucky.  Lexington, KY 2002.

Educator, Attorney and Activist

October 21, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

Professor Carolyn Bratt is a perfect example of a woman who took her views and beliefs to a new level of reality. Professor Bratt flew through many glass ceilings and then constructed escalators for other women to come through. Originally from New York, Professor Bratt graduated from Syracuse University College of Law in 1974 and then instantly joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky Law School in 1975. Once in Kentucky she never left, but instead devoted all of her free time to the civil rights movement and to the women’s equality movement.[1]

She broke through many barriers in Lexington history by being one of the first women to practice law in Lexington and was the first woman to be on the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees.[2] This was the first time any women had done anything like this on a southern campus across the country. Professor Bratt gave more than three hundred speeches in her time at the University of Kentucky, all across the state, in order to give her opinions on the equality of women and gender in political, economical and educational aspects of life. Most recently she was deeply involved in helping the University of Kentucky create policies to deal with sexual assault and harassment for all of the people surrounding the campus.

It was extremely rare to see a woman on the forefront of her department who was involved in changing the way that women fit in around college life. She opened the doors for women to get involved in any aspect of the education process that they wished, where before certain areas of education were meant just for men. Her dedication to spreading her ideas on women’s equality and the civil rights movement is beneficial to the thousands of women that attended the University of Kentucky today.

[1] “2003 Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.”

[2] “2003 Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.”

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