Women in Kentucky - Timeline

Selected history of women and public service in Kentucky.

1500s / 1600s

Virginia Dare becomes the first child in America born of non-Native parents.

Pocahontas is said to have saved Jamestown colonist Captain John Smith from execution by Algonquin chief Powhatan, her father.

A proposal to give women an equal portion in colonial lands is rejected by the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Anne Dudley Bradstreet leaves Europe for the Americas and becomes known as the first European-American poet.


First known African American poet, Phyllis Wheatley, arrives in the U.S. on a slave ship.

Rebecca Boone and her daughter Jemina arrive in Kentucky, becoming the first white women to settle here.

American Declaration of Independence signed.

Jane Coomes credited with starting the first elementary school at Fort Harrod.

Esther Whitley and husband build first brick house west of the Allegheny Mountains in Crab Orchard.

Kentucky becomes a state and a Constitution is drafted. BACK TO TOP


Sacajewea accompanies the Lewis and Clarke expedition as they head west, helping them to obtain needed supplies and communicate with other Native Americans.

Jane Todd Crawford rides horseback 60 miles to Danville to have a 20-pound ovarian tumor removed with no anesthesia.

First textile mills built in Lowell, Massachusetts. Textile mills became the primary option for women in need or want of work outside the home; working conditions spark female labor organizing.

Catherine Spalding helps start Roman Catholic order of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth near Bardstown and is elected Mother of these pioneer nuns.

Julia Tevis opens Science Hill Female Academy in Shelbyville, emphasizing science and mathematics.

Women comprise 90% of New England textile workers.

Julia Dinsmore born; keeps daily diary of her Burlington farm until death in 1926.

Oberlin College is founded in Ohio, the first co-educational college in the U.S.

Mount Holyoke is founded in Massachusetts, and is now the oldest continuing women’s college in the nation.

Kentucky becomes the first state to permit suffrage of any kind; property-owning widows and single women were given the right to vote in school board elections.

Delia Webster helps 3 slaves escape across Ohio River; she was caught and sentenced, but later pardoned.

Carry Nation is born in Garrard County; later, becomes temperance movement leader.

Maria Mitchell discovers a new comet; in 1848, becomes first women elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

First American Women’s Rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York; considered birth of American Women’s Rights Movement.

Elizabeth Blackwell becomes first U.S. woman to receive a medical degree.

Sojourner Truth delivers her famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech in Akron, Ohio.

Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Lucy Stone, suffrage leader, speaks in Louisville.

Berea college was founded with the aim of educating Appalachians, regardless of race or sex.

Margaret Garner escapes from slavery, is captured in Ohio, and kills her infant daughter rather than see her returned to slavery. Her story is later immortalized in Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel, Beloved.

Civil War. During the Civil War, women in both the North and South were active in all spheres of life—they acted as farmers, businesswomen, soldiers, and healthcare providers.

Read the diary entries of two Kentuckians writing during the Civil War.

The Marcum family home is attacked by Confederate soldiers; Julia Marcum successfully fights off soldier with an ax.

Nancy Moore becomes Eldress of Shaker community at South Union.

Belle Mitchell Jackson becomes first black teacher at Camp Nelson, Kentucky.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal Rights Association.

Suffrage association forms in Hardin County then disappears. BACK TO TOP

Wyoming, while still a territory, becomes first to extend full voting rights to women. Wyoming becomes a state in 1890, becoming the first state to allow women to vote.

American suffragists split over the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) is formed by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martha Coffin Pelham Wright. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) is formed by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and others.

John Stuart Mill publishes The Subjugation of Women, an early work examining the treatment of women in western culture.

Susan B. Anthony and 8 other women vote in Rochester, New York and are arrested; Sojourner Truth is turned away from polls at Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) formed to fight evils of alcohol.

Susan B. Anthony gives “Bread, Not the Ballot” speech to suffrage association at meeting in Richmond. Madison County Suffrage Association started as result.

Suffragist Anna Howard Shaw becomes first woman minister of the Methodist Protestant Church.

Women first admitted to the University of Kentucky.

Kentucky legislature denies women the right to be admitted to the bar.

Paiute Indian leader Sarah Winnemucca protests conditions on Indian reservations.

American Woman Suffrage Association meets in Louisville; at the close of the convention, Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association is formed with Laura Clay as president.

Spelman College in Atlanta opens as liberal arts institution for African American women.

The American Association of the Red Cross is formed by Clara Barton.

Mary Miller becomes first female licensed riverboat captain.

Mary Barr Clay is elected president of the American Woman Suffrage Association.

The Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association fails to grow; the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) is formed to replace it, with goals broader than suffrage alone; Laura Clay serves as president until 1912.

View photographs and primary documents from the suffrage movement in Kentucky.

Mary E. Britton teaches school in Lexington and writes for Our Women and Children, Kentucky’s premier Black magazine.

The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association combine to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Rev. Louisa Woosley of Caneyville publishes Shall Women Preach? after becoming the first female preacher in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Sculptor Enid Yandell helps create statuary for the grounds of the 1891 Chicago World’s Fair.

Mary Desha and 2 other women found Daughters of American Revolution in Washington, D.C.

Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr found Hull House, a settlement house project in Chicago's 19th Ward; the settlement house movement begins.

African American journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett begins her nationwide anti-lynching campaign.

Sophonisba Breckinridge becomes first woman admitted to the Kentucky bar.

Gymnastics instructor Senda Berenson Abbott introduces women’s basketball at Smith College.

Composers Mildred and Patty Hill publish song book; one was re-written in 1935 as “Happy Birthday to You.”

Linda Neville begins work to eradicate trachoma in eastern Kentucky mountains; in 1944, she wins Leslie Dana Medal for her work.

The Married Women’s Property Act is signed into law, because of the work of Kentuckians such as Josephine Henry.

School suffrage laws extended to women of 3rd class cities: Lexington, Covington, and Newport.

Louise Southgate opens medical practice in Covington, becoming first female licensed physician in Covington.

Part I of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman's Bible is published (Part II in 1898). Stanton and other women’s rights advocates, such as Kentucky’s Josephine Henry, were ostracized by more conservative suffragists for their involvement.

Annie Fellows Johnston publishes The Little Colonel, based on Peewee Valley in Oldham County.

Emma Guy Cromwell becomes first woman elected to statewide office in Kentucky.


Kentucky becomes only state to take away suffrage once given when the legislature reverses school suffrage law based on fears of Lexington Black women voting in block.

May Stone and Katherine Pettit found Hindman Settlement School.

Caroline Taylor opens the Mrs. A.H. Taylor Co. in Bowling Green, a successful dressmaking and designing business.

Ora Porter graduates from Tuskegee College School of Nursing.

Effie Waller Smith publishes first book of poems, Songs of the Month. BACK TO TOP

Kentucky legislature passes Day Law, effectively segregating all Kentucky schools based on race.

Bertha Kapernick becomes the first woman to give a bronco riding expedition.

Nettie Stevens, through her study of meal worms, identifies the X and Y chromosomes, which determine sex.

Suffragist and author Eliza Calvert Obenchain publishes popular Aunt Jane of Kentucky.

The Women’s Motoring Club holds the first all-female auto-race, from New York City to Philadelphia and back.

Feminist playwright, Rachel Crothers, produces first feminist play on Broadway, A Man's World.

Fire at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City kills 146 people, mostly women and children, because fire escape doors were locked.

Harriet Quimby becomes first American woman to earn pilot’s license.

Moonlight Schools open in Rowan County, initiated by Cora Wilson Stewart.

Kentucky suffragists organize float in Louisville parade; believed to be the first suffrage parade in the South.

Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long Zande found Pine Mountain Settlement School.

World War I.

As a dedicated geographer, Ellen Semple wins Cullum Medal in recognition of her contributions to science.

Margaret Ingels becomes the first woman to receive an engineering degree.

McCracken Co. native Alma Lesch born; spends lifetime creating award-winning fabric collages made with signature antique clothing.

Loretta Walsh becomes the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy. BACK TO TOP

Kentucky suffragists split on issue of whether suffrage should be granted by individual states or by Federal Amendment.

Lena Madesin Phillips founds National Federation off Business and Professional Women’s Clubs in Washington, D.C.

Ruth Booe and Rebecca Gooch open Rebecca-Ruth Candies in Frankfort.

On January 6th, the first day of the legislative session, Kentucky ratifies the 19th Amendment.

Tennessee becomes 38th state to ratify the 19th amendment; woman suffrage becomes constitutional law across the U.S.

National American Woman Suffrage Association dissolves and reorganizes as League of Women Voters to operate on local, state and national levels. Kentucky Equal Rights Association becomes L.W.V.

Mary Elliott Flanery becomes Kentucky and the South’s first female legislator when she is elected to the House of Representatives.

Lucy Furman publishes The Quare Women, based on her experiences working at Hindman Settlement School for 17 years.

Alice Paul drafts the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution in 1921. Beginning in 1923, the ERA was introduced into every session of Congress until 1972.

International Women's Sports Federation is formed and hosts its version of the Olympics.

Marie Caroline Brehm becomes first woman to run for Vice President of the U.S. with a minor party, the Prohibition Party.

Mary Breckinridge founds Frontier Nursing Service at Hyden.

Paducah native Mary Wheeler begins documenting and collecting the music of the eastern Kentucky mountains; later, she collects songs of the Ohio River packet boat era.

Kentucky writer Elizabeth Madox Roberts publishes The Time of Man, which gained her an international reputation.

Katherine Gudger-Langley becomes Kentucky’s first U.S. Congresswoman.

Kathleen Mulligan becomes Kentucky’s first woman judge.

Anthropologist Margaret Meade publishes Coming of Age in Samoa.

Ella May Wiggins killed in textile workers strike in North Carolina and becomes martyr for struggle to unionize.

Sarah Ogan Gunning begins writing and singing Appalachian-style ballads to draw attention to plight of coal miners, poverty, and union activity.

Coach Audrey Peterson helps Woodburn High School win the title in the last girls’ high school basketball state championship until 1975.

Alice Slone establishes Lotts Creek Community School.

Kevil native Sarah Gertrude Knott organizes first National Folk Festival in St. Louis.

Lily May Ledford leaves Powell County to join all-female band, the Coon Creek Girls, and sing on Chicago radio station.

National Council of Negro Women founded by Mary McLeod Bethune as a national coalition of black women’s organizations

Helen Humes begins singing the Blues all over U.S.

Amelia Earhart disappears somewhere over the Pacific Ocean during her attempt to fly around the world.

Congress passes Fair Labor Standards Act.

Willa Beatrice Brown Chappell earns pilot’s license.

Pearl Carter Pace becomes sheriff of Cumberland Co.

Wonder Woman comic book heroine created.

US involvement in WWII. Women from Kentucky and all over the U.S. were involved in the War as laborers, WACs, WAVES, WASPs, and entertainers.

Kentuckians such as Helen Evans and Lois Gray were part of this effort. BACK TO TOP

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is launched; includes 10 teams and lasts 10 years.

1st Lt. Anna Mac Clarke and other officers de-segregate Arizona Army base movie theater.

Jean Ritchie graduates from the University of Kentucky and heads for New York City; her music career is launched.

Alice Allison Dunnigan becomes 1st African American female correspondent to receive White House credentials.

Gretchen Fraser becomes first American to win an Olympic medal in Skiing.

Caroline Conn Moore becomes Kentucky’s first female state Senator.

Janice Holt Giles publishes her first novel, The Enduring Hills.

An explosion destroys the home that Anne Braden and her husband Carl had purchased in a white Louisville suburb and sold to the Wades, an African American family.

Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, thereby initiating the Montgomery bus boycott.

Dr. Louise Caudill opens Morehead’s first family health clinic.

Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, becomes the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.

Kentucky Commission on Human Rights established.

Representative Amelia Tucker becomes the first African American woman elected to the Kentucky State Legislature.

President’s Commission on the Status of Women is established, headed by Eleanor Roosevelt.

U.S. Congress passes Equal Pay Act.

U.S. Congress passes Civil Rights Act.

Georgia Powers, Lucretia Ward, and many others march on Frankfort demanding access to public accommodations. Kentucky legislators fail to pass bill until the 1966 session.

Kentucky Commission on Women established by Executive Order; becomes official state agency in 1970.

Packard native Patricia Neal wins Academy Award for role in Hud.

Senator Georgia Davis (Powers) becomes first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate.

Lois Morris begins first term as Louisville Alderman.

Wyomia Tyus becomes first Olympian to win consecutive gold medals in any event, winning the 100 meter event in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

Boston Women's Health Collective publishes Our Bodies, Ourselves; now in its 7th edition, still the most comprehensive book on women's health.

Diane Crump becomes first female jockey in Kentucky Derby. BACK TO TOP

Alice “Dolly” McNutt is elected mayor of Paducah, becoming the first female mayor of a Kentucky second class city.

Congress passes Education Amendments, including Title IX. Although Title IX requires gender equity in all educational activities receiving federal funding, girls sports were most affected. The passage of Title IX allows young women like Geri Grigsby to participate in high school sports.

House Bill 27, sponsored by Representative Mae Street Kidd, becomes law, creating the Kentucky Housing Corporation which promotes and finances low-income housing in Kentucky.

The ERA passes out of Congress and goes to states for ratification; when the time limit runs out it in 1982 (after Congress allows for an extension) it is still 3 states short of the 38 needed to become an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Jean Westwood becomes the first U.S. woman to chair a national political party and manage a presidential campaign when she is elected as chairperson of the Democratic National Committee.

U.S. Supreme Court hears Roe. v. Wade.

Mandatory maternity leave for teachers is outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Girls are allowed to join Little League Baseball teams.

Thelma Stovall becomes Kentucky’s first female Lt. Governor.

The United Nations declares 1975-1985 the Decade for Women, Equality, Development, and Peace.

Karren Stead, 11, becomes the first girl to win the All-American Soap Box Derby.

The U.S. Congress passes bill authorizing the admission of women to U.S. military academies, beginning in the fall of 1976.

Legislation sponsored by Representative Mae Street Kidd passes, closing a dark chapter of Kentucky history by ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Janet Guthrie is the first woman to compete in the Indy 500.

Rosalyn Yalow becomes the first American woman to win Nobel Prize for medicine.

“Take Back the Night” first used as slogan for national protest march against pornography that promotes violent crimes against women.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is founded.

The first female U.S. astronauts are selected: Anna Fisher, Shannon Lucid, Judith Resnick, Sally Ride, Margaret Seddon, and Kathryn Sullivan.

Verna Mae Slone publishes What My Heart Wants to Tell.

The U.S. Treasury issues the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

The Kentucky Women’s Writers Conference is established at the University of Kentucky.

Coal Miner’s Daughter, award-winning film about the life of Kentuckian Loretta Lynn, released.

Small group of California women form Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which becomes a national organization.

Sandra Day O'Connor is appointed first woman U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Eula Hall opens Mud Creek Clinic in Grethel.

Governor Martha Layne Collins becomes Kentucky’s first woman governor.

Louisville playwright Marsha Norman wins Pulitzer Prize for “‘night, Mother.”

Tamara McKinney wins World Cup for skiing.

Sally Ride becomes first American woman to travel in space.

Linda Boileau becomes first female editorial cartoonist in Kentucky when she begins as cartoonist for Frankfort’s State Journal.

Swimmer Mary T. Meagher wins 3 gold medals at Olympic Games.

Gaylia Rooks ordained as Rabbi at Hebrew Union College and joins Adath Israel B’rith Shalom Temple in Louisville.

Jane Fonda stars in Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker.

Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman to run for Vice President of the U.S. as a major party candidate.

Sallie Bingham gives $10 million to found the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Libby Riddles becomes the first woman to win the Alaskan Iditarod.

Tania Aebi, 18, becomes the youngest person to sail around the world, accompanied only by her cats.

Jane Stephenson opens the New Opportunity School, which gives women a fresh look at their opportunities and conflicts.

Laura Freeman opens Laura’s Lean Beef, the pacesetter for low-fat beef grown with no pesticides nor antibiotics.

Helen Lang opens Crane House in Louisville.

Loretta Lynn inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Anne Braden wins American Civil Liberties Union Medal of Liberty for life pursuit of social and racial justice.

Belinda Mason becomes first person living with HIV to be appointed to the National Commission on AIDS.

Writer and activist Belinda Mason dies.

Evelyn Williams sits down in front of gas trucks on her property at Red Fox, protesting their entrance onto her property.

Sara Combs becomes the first female member of the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Julie Krone becomes first female to win a Triple Crown race by capturing the 1993 Belmont Stakes.

Poet Maya Angelou reads poem at William J. Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.

Vicki Van Meter, 12, becomes the youngest person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from Augusta, Maine, to Glasgow, Scotland.

Corinne Whitehead wins Earth Day Award for her work as an environmental activist, focusing on air, water, soil and ground water around Calvert City industrial complex and Paducah Diffusion Plant.

Terri Cecil-Ramsey joins fencing team for 1996 Paralympics. BACK TO TOP

Governor Paul Patton creates Governor’s Office of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence; Mrs. Judi Patton is appointed special advisor.

The WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) is formed.

Nelda Barton-Collings ends 27-year stint as Kentucky National Committeewoman for the Republican Party.

Alexis Herman, an Alabama native, becomes the first African American Secretary of Labor.

Lucille Markey Charitable Trust dissolved after distributing half a billion dollars to institutions nationwide, including $5.25 million to build Markey Cancer Center in Lexington.

Kentucky Legislature passes HB 864, creating Office of Women’s Health.

Mary Breckinridge is commemorated with U.S. postal stamp.

Elizabeth Heaston becomes the first woman to play and score in a college football game.

The U.S. Treasury issues the Sacajewea coin, replacing the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

Tori Murden becomes first woman and the first American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Nicki Patton and Ellen Williams become chairpersons of the Democratic and Republican parties of Kentucky, respectively. For the first time, both parties are lead by women.

This timeline is based on information gathered from History of Woman Suffrage, vols. 1-3, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., vol. 4, Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, eds., and vols. 5,6, Ida Husted Harper, ed.; The Timetables of Women’s History, Karen Greenspan; Gutsy Girls: Young Women Who Dare, Tina Schwager and Michelle Schuerger; and The Kentucky Encyclopedia, John E. Kleber, ed.

This timeline is not meant to be comprehensive, but to represent selected highlights in the history of women in the United States and Kentucky.

Click here to get informations in german!

Site Overview


A. What

Performing Arts
Public Service

B. When

View a selected history of women
View a selected history of women
Sounds and images
Civil War Diaries

C. Where

Central / Northern Kentucky
Western Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky
Southern Kentucky


Selected Readings
Educational Tools
Web tools
Archival Collections
Children's Books

E. About this Project

Women in Sports:

Minnie Adkins
Elizabeth Barret, Anne Lewis, Mimi Pickering, & Justine Richardson
Jane Burch Cochran
Joan Dance
Enid Yandell

Women in Business:

Nelda Barton-Collings
Julia Dinsmore
Laura Freeman
Mattie Mack
Lena Madesin Phillips
Caroline Burnam Taylor

Women in Education:

Helen Lew Lang
Katherine Pettit
Jane Stephenson
Cora Wilson Stewart

Women in Health/Medicine:

Mary Britton
Linda Neville
Ora Framer Porter
Louise Southgate, M.D.

Women in Journalism:

Linda Boileau
Alice Allison Dunnigan

Women in Law:

Pearl Carter Pace
Lt. Colonel Linda Smith

Women in Literature:

Effie Waller Smith

Women in Military:

Lt. Anna Mac Clarke
Capt. Helen Horlacher Evans
Julia Ann Marcum

Women in Music:

Sarah Ogan Gunning
Helen Humes
Lily May Ledford
Reel World String Band
Jean Ritchie
Mary Wheeler

Women as Pioneers:

Esther Whitley

Women in Public Service:

Governor Martha Layne Collins
Emma Guy Cromwell
Rep. Mary Elliott Flanery
Sen. Georgia Davis Powers
Lt. Gov. Thelma Stovall

Women in Reform:

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge
Laura Clay
Eula Hall
Josephine Henry
Belinda Mason
Lois Morris
Eliza Caroline Calvert Obenchain
Charlotte Richardson
Joan Robinett
Mary Sue Whayne
Corinne Whitehead
Evelyn Williams

Women in Religion:

Eldress Nancy Moore
Rabbi Gaylia Rooks

Women in Science:

Sarah Frances Price
Ellen Churchill Semple

Women in Sports:

Terri Cecil-Ramsey
Geri Grigsby
Audrey Whitlock Peterson
Mary T. Meagher Plant