As 2020 got underway, the impending celebration of the 19th Amendment Centennial on Aug. 26 had been building across the nation.
Woman suffrage history became increasingly prominent, with national exhibits, documentaries, CDs, books, historic markers, statues and the “Turning Point Suffrage Memorial” in Virginia. Most of all, Americans became aware of those determined women who so long ago had persisted to become voting citizens.
Kentucky women joined this centennial celebration with strong support in many parts of the state. But in March, with just five months until the Centennial date, the pandemic restrictions brought an abrupt halt to all celebration plans, both national and state.
It also required new thinking and new approaches in order to somehow acknowledge the centennial in 2020. Frankfort women implemented a token celebration with banners of five Kentucky suffragist leaders along Broadway Street, as well as a history walk and a program of suffrage songs, with distancing and masks, at the Old Capitol.
To do the job right, however, a centennial celebration and Women’s Equality Day will be celebrated in Frankfort on Saturday, Aug. 21. Three new banners for a “Broadway Suffrage Stroll” have been added on Broadway. The banners recognize those women for their many years of dedicated work for the suffrage cause.
Most of them strived for years for social improvements in their communities and across the state. They wanted better education and compulsory education, health care for tuberculosis sufferers, assistance to the needy, child labor laws and quality of life improvements in their communities.
Their work for woman suffrage came from the frustration of having no political power. Without the vote, their hands were tied in getting bills passed that would achieve those goals for women, children and families.
These Kentucky women became journalists, public speakers and leaders speaking out for women’s rights. The speeches they delivered, the articles they wrote, the campaigns, time and money they gave will never be fully appreciated.
They were determined leaders in the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, as well as the national association. Some were leaders in bringing equality to women in their church organizations.
The Married Woman’s Property Act, a major breakthrough for women’s rights in Kentucky, was passed in 1894, aided by the driving force of Josephine Henry to bring it to completion. Henry also was the first woman in Kentucky — and in the South — to run for a state public office.
Another, Mary Ellen Britton, became the first licensed woman doctor in Lexington. We can be thankful these determined women did not quit the fight. Through long decades of opposition, they nevertheless persisted.
It is well worth your time to read more about these remarkable women — our sisters from the past.
Now, let’s meet the Ladies on Broadway, and the sponsors of their banners:
• Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (Lexington-Fayette County)
Sponsor: Ashland, Henry Clay Estate
• Dr. Mary Ellen Britton (Lexington-Fayette County)
Sponsor: Nancy Atcher
• Mary Barr Clay (Richmond-Madison County)
Sponsor: Women Suffrage Centennial Chorus
• Jessica (Jessie) Firth (Covington-Kenton County)
Sponsor: Rebecca Bryan Boone Chapter of the DAR
• Eliza (Lida) Calvert Obenchain (Bowling Green-Warren County)
Sponsor: WKU Foundation
• Josephine Kirby Henry (Versailles-Woodford County)
Sponsor: Woodford County Historical Society
• Mary Virginia Cook Parrish (Louisville-Jefferson County)
Sponsored by her Descendants
• Christine Bradley South (Frankfort-Franklin County)
Sponsor: Women Suffrage Centennial Celebration