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Kentucky Equal Rights Association

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA)
Founded 1888
Founder suffragists from Fayette and Kenton counties, including Laura Clay and Henrietta Chenault
Focus Women's rights, married women's property rights, feminism, school suffrage, temperance, admitting women to higher education juvenile defense rights, raising the age of consent
Key people
Mary Barr Clay, Laura Clay, Madeline McDowell Breckinridge

Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) was the first permanent statewide women's rights organization in Kentucky. Founded in November 1888, the KERA voted in 1920 to transmute itself into the Kentucky League of Women Voters to continue its many and diverse progressive efforts on behalf of women's rights.

Governor Edwin P. Morrow signs ratification bill for Kentucky, January 6, 1920, with members of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association watching.

Inspired by Lucy Stone during the national meeting of the American Woman Suffrage Association in Louisville in 1881,[1] a group of suffragists formed the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association, the first statewide suffrage organization in the South. Laura Clay served as president with affiliate groups in Louisville, Lexington and Richmond. Laura's older sister, Mary Barr Clay (vice-president for both Elizabeth Cady Stanton's National Woman Suffrage Association as well as of Stone's American Woman Suffrage Association) hosted Susan B. Anthony in Richmond in 1879 to speak on the need for economic protections for women. She then founded the Madison County Equal Rights Association, the state's first permanent women's rights association. Soon afterward, Mary B. Clay invited Lucy Stone to stay at her mother Mary Jane Warfield Clay's house in Lexington, and Stone mentored the creation of the Fayette County Equal Suffrage Association (later the Fayette County Equal Rights Association[2]).

In November 1888, Lucy Stone invited Laura Clay to present a paper at the AWSA convention in Cincinnati. Clay agreed and invited all the Kentucky suffragists to join her there to organize a new statewide association. On November 22, 1888, delegates from Fayette and Kenton counties joined the four daughters of the former abolitionist Cassius M. Clay – Anne, Sally, Mary and Laura – to create the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA). Though Cassius Clay strongly condemned the woman suffrage movement on moral, political and scientific grounds, his daughters led the movement for women's right to vote as well as for legal, educational and industrial rights for women.

The KERA adopted the Fayette County Equal Rights Association's broad platform of reform rather than focusing only on women's voting rights. The founding officers were: president, Laura Clay; vice presidents, Ellen Battelle Dietrick and Mary Barr Clay; corresponding secretary, Eugenia B. Farmer; recording secretary, Anna M. Deane; and treasurer. Isabella H. Shepard.[3] The leadership with only 66 members quickly organized campaigns with lectures and lobbying, writing petitions, newspaper columns and pamphlets, as well as organizing affiliate chapters around the state. They also encouraged women to enroll in institutions of higher education, hoping to achieve absolute equality in every profession. In 1890 a KERA petition presented to the Kentucky legislature was supported by 10,000 signatures, and by 1895 KERA membership rose to 400 members.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Reconstruction and 1876: Crash Course US History #22


Episode 21: Reconstruction Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course U.S. History and huzzah! The Civil War is over! The slaves are free! Huzzah! That one hit me in the head? It’s very dangerous, Crash Course. So when you say, “Don’t aim at a person,” that includes myself? The roller coaster only goes up from here, my friends. Huzzah! Mr. Green, Mr. Green, what about the epic failure of Reconstruction? Oh, right. Stupid Reconstruction always ruining everything intro So after the Civil War ended, the United States had to reintegrate both a formerly slave population and a formerly rebellious population back into the country, which is a challenge that we might’ve met, except Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and we were left with Andrew “I am the Third Worst President Ever” Johnson. I’m sorry, Abe, but you don’t get to be in the show anymore. So, Lincoln’s whole post-war idea was to facilitate reunion and reconciliation, and Andrew Johnson’s guiding Reconstruction principle was that the South never had a right to secede in the first place. Also, because he was himself a Southerner, he resented all the elites in the South who had snubbed him, AND he was also a racist who didn’t think that blacks should have any role in Reconstruction. TRIFECTA! So between 1865 and 1867, the so-called period of Presidential Reconstruction, Johnson appointed provisional governors and ordered them to call state conventions to establish new all-white governments. And in their 100% whiteness and oppression of former slaves, those new governments looked suspiciously like the old confederate governments they had replaced. And what was changing for the former slaves? Well, in some ways, a lot. Like, Fiske and Howard universities were established, as well as many primary and secondary schools, thanks in part to The Freedman’s Bureau, which only lasted until 1870, but had the power to divide up confiscated and abandoned confederate land for former slaves. And this was very important because to most slaves, land ownership was the key to freedom, and many felt like they’d been promised land by the Union Army. Like, General Sherman’s Field Order 15, promised to distribute land in 40 acre plots to former slaves. But that didn’t happen, either through the Freedman’s Bureau or anywhere else. Instead, President Johnson ordered all land returned to its former owners. So the South remained largely agricultural with the same people owning the same land, and in the end, we ended up with sharecropping. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The system of sharecropping replaced slavery in many places throughout the South. Landowners would provide housing to the sharecroppers--no, Thought Bubble, not quite that nice. There ya go--also tools and seed, and then the sharecroppers received, get this, a share of their crop--usually between a third and a half, with the price for that harvest often set by the landowner. Freed blacks got to control their work, and plantation owners got a steady workforce that couldn’t easily leave, because they had little opportunity to save money and make the big capital investments in, like, land or tools. By the late 1860s, poor white farmers were sharecropping as well--in fact, by the Great Depression, most sharecroppers were white. And while sharecropping certainly wasn’t slavery, it did result in a quasi-serfdom that tied workers to land they didn’t own--more or less the opposite of Jefferson’s ideal of the small, independent farmer. So, the Republicans in Congress weren’t happy that this reconstructed south looked so much like the pre-Civil War south, so they took the lead in reconstruction after 1867. Radical Republicans felt the war had been fought for equal rights and wanted to see the powers of the national government expanded. Few were as radical as Thaddeus “Tommy Lee Jones” Stephens who wanted to take away land from the Southern planters and give it to the former slaves, but rank-and-file Republicans were radical enough to pass the Civil Rights Bill, which defined persons born in the United States as citizens and established nationwide equality before the law regardless of race. Andrew Johnson immediately vetoed the law, claiming that trying to protect the rights of African Americans amounted to discrimination against white people, which so infuriated Republicans that Congress did something it had never done before in all of American history. They overrode the Presidential veto with a 2/3rds majority and the Civil Rights Act became law. So then Congress really had its dander up and decided to amend the Constitution with the 14th amendment, which defines citizenship, guarantees equal protection, and extends the rights in the Bill of Rights to all the states (sort of). The amendment had almost no Democratic support, but it also didn’t need any, because there were almost no Democrats in Congress on account of how Congress had refused to seat the representatives from the “new” all-white governments that Johnson supported. And that’s how we got the 14th amendment, arguably the most important in the whole Constitution. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Oh, straight to the mystery document today? Alright. The rules here are simple. I guess the author of the Mystery Document and try not to get shocked. Alright let’s see what we’ve got today. Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the police jury of the parish of St. Landry, That no negro shall be allowed to pass within the limits of said parish without special permit in writing from his employer. Sec. 4. . . . Every negro is required to be in the regular service of some white person, or former owner, who shall be held responsible for the conduct of said negro.. Sec. 6. . . . No negro shall be permitted to preach, exhort, or otherwise declaim to congregations of colored people, without a special permission in writing from the president of the police jury. . . . Gee, Stan, I wonder if the President of the Police Jury was white. I actually know this one. It is a Black Code, which was basically legal codes where they just replaced the word “slave” with the word “negro.” And this code shows just how unwilling white governments were to ensure the rights of new, free citizens. I would celebrate not getting shocked, but now I am depressed. So, okay, in 1867, again over Johnson’s veto, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, which divided the south into 5 military districts and required each state to create a new government, one that included participation of black men. Those new governments had to ratify the 14th amendment if they wanted to get back into the union. Radical Reconstruction had begun. So, in 1868, Andrew Johnson was about as electable in the U.S. as Jefferson Davis, and sure enough he didn’t win. Instead, the 1868 election was won by Republican and former Union general Ulysses S. Grant. But Grant’s margin of victory was small enough that Republicans were like, “Man, we would sure win more elections if black people could vote.” Which is something you hear Republicans say all the time these days. So Congressional Republicans pushed the 15th Amendment, which prohibited states from denying men the right to vote based on race, but not based on gender or literacy or whether your grandfather could vote. So states ended up with a lot of leeway when it came to denying the franchise to African Americans, which of course they did. So here we have the federal government dictating who can vote, and who is and isn’t a citizen of a state, and establishing equality under the law--even local laws. And this is a really big deal in American history, because the national government became, rather than a threat to individual liberty, “the custodian of freedom,” as Radical Republican Charles Sumner put it. So but with this legal protection, former slaves began to exercise their rights. They participated in the political process by direct action, such as staging sit-ins to integrate street-cars, by voting in elections, and by holding office. Most African Americans were Republicans at the time, and because they could vote and were a large part of the population, the Republican party came to dominate politics in the South, just like today, except totally different. Now, Southern mythology about the age of radical Reconstruction is exemplified by Gone with the Wind, which of course tells the story of northern Republican dominance and corruption by southern Republicans. Fortune seeking northern carpetbaggers, seen here, as well as southern turncoat scalawags dominated politics and all of the African American elected leaders were either corrupt or puppets or both. Yeah, well, like the rest of Gone with the Wind, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. There were about 2,000 African Americans who held office during Reconstruction, and the vast majority of them were not corrupt. Consider for example the not-corrupt and amazingly-named Pinckney B.S. Pinchback, who from 1872 to 1873 served very briefly in Louisiana as America’s first black governor. And went on to be a senator and a member of the House of Representatives. By the way, America’s second African American governor, Douglas Wilder of Virginia was elected in 1989. Having African American officeholders was a huge step forward in term of ensuring the rights of African Americans because it meant that there would be black juries and less discrimination in state and local governments when it came to providing basic services. But in the end, Republican governments failed in the South. There were important achievements, especially a school system that, while segregated, did attempt to educate both black and white children. And even more importantly, they created a functioning government where both white and African American citizens could participate. According to one white South Carolina lawyer, “We have gone through one of the most remarkable changes in our relations to each other that has been known, perhaps, in the history of the world.” That’s a little hyperbolic, but we are America after all. (libertage) It’s true that corruption was widespread, but it was in the North, too. I mean, we’re talking about governments. And that’s not why Reconstruction really ended: It ended because 1. things like schools and road repair cost money, which meant taxes, which made Republican governments very unpopular because Americans hate taxes, and 2. White southerners could not accept African Americans exercising basic civil rights, holding office or voting. And for many, the best way to return things to the way they were before reconstruction was through violence. Especially after 1867, much of the violence directed toward African Americans in the South was politically motivated. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 and it quickly became a terrorist organization, targeting Republicans, both black and white, beating and murdering men and women in order to intimidate them and keep them from voting. The worst act of violence was probably the massacre at Colfax, Louisiana where hundreds of former slaves were murdered. And between intimidation and emerging discriminatory voting laws, fewer black men voted, which allowed white Democrats to take control of state governments in the south, and returned white Democratic congressional delegations to Washington. These white southern politicians called themselves “Redeemers” because they claimed to have redeemed the south from northern republican corruption and black rule. Now, it’s likely that the South would have fallen back into Democratic hands eventually, but the process was aided by Northern Republicans losing interest in Reconstruction. In 1873, the U.S. fell into yet another not-quite-Great economic depression and northerners lost the stomach to fight for the rights of black people in the south, which in addition to being hard was expensive. So by 1876 the supporters of reconstruction were in full retreat and the Democrats were resurgent, especially in the south. And this set up one of the most contentious elections in American history. The Democrats nominated New York Governor (and NYU Law School graduate) Samuel Tilden. The Republicans chose Ohio governor (and Kenyon College alumnus) Rutherford B. Hayes. One man who’d gone to Crash Course writer Raoul Meyer’s law school. And another who’d gone to my college, Kenyon. Now, if the election had been based on facial hair, as elections should be, there would’ve been no controversy, but sadly we have an electoral college here in the United States, and in 1876 there were disputed electoral votes in South Carolina, Louisiana, and, of course, Florida. Now you might remember that in these situations, there is a constitutional provision that says Congress should decide the winner, but Congress, shockingly, proved unable to accomplish something. So they appointed a 15 man Electoral Commission--a Super-Committee, if you will. And there were 8 Republicans on that committee and 7 Democrats, so you will never guess who won. Kenyon College’s own Rutherford B. Hayes. Go Lords and Ladies! And yes, that is our mascot. Shut up. Anyway in order to get the Presidency and win the support of the supercommittee, Hayes’ people agreed to cede control of the South to the Democrats and to stop meddling in Southern affairs and also to build a transcontinental railroad through Texas. This is called the Bargain of 1877 because historians are so good at naming things and it basically killed Reconstruction. Without any more federal troops in Southern states and with control of Southern legislatures firmly in the hands of white democrats the states were free to go back to restricting the freedom of black people, which they did. Legislatures passed Jim Crow laws that limited African American’s access to public accommodations and legal protections. States passed laws that took away black people’s right to vote and social and economic mobility among African Americans in the south declined precipitously. However, for a brief moment, the United States was more democratic than it had ever been before. And an entire segment of the population that had no impact on politics before was now allowed to participate. And for the freedmen who lived through it, that was a monumental change, and it would echo down to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, sometimes called the second reconstruction. But we’re gonna end this episode on a downer, as we are wont to do here at Crash Course US History because I want to point out a lesser-known legacy of Reconstruction. The Reconstruction amendments and laws that were passed granted former slaves political freedom and rights, especially the vote, and that was critical. But to give them what they really wanted and needed, plots of land that would make them economically independent, would have required confiscation, and that violation of property rights was too much for all but the most radical Republicans. And that question of what it really means to be “free” in a system of free market capitalism has proven very complicated indeed. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself. And our graphics team is Thought Café. Every week there’s a new caption for the libertage. You can suggest those in comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered by our team of historians. Thank you for watching Crash Course. Don’t forget to subscribe. And as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome. reconstruction -


Economic protection

The KERA organized several campaigns to change the laws regarding women's financial dependency and economic rights. In 1894 Governor John Y. Brown signed the Married Woman's Property Act, spearheaded by Josephine K. Henry. A school suffrage act which gave all women in second class cities in Kentucky, specifically in Lexington, Newport and Covington, the right to vote in local school board elections and educational matters also passed. This law was rescinded in 1902 after it became clear that the organizational efforts by African-American women had a large impact in election results.[4] Women consigned to asylums in the state gained strong advocates when, by 1898, the Kentucky legislators agreed with KERA that all state asylums should have women physicians.

Women and higher education

Since 1838 female heads of households in Kentucky could vote in school board elections. However, few women who qualified for this right knew about it, and in many other ways, Kentucky's laws regarding women were the most repressive in the South. In 1880 the Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College was the first college in Kentucky to begin admitting women. The Louisville College of Pharmacy started enrolling women in 1890. The Fayette County Equal Rights Association recruited women to enroll there, and meanwhile lobbied the leaders of Transylvania University, which finally opened its doors to women in 1889. In rapid succession other central Kentucky colleges became co-educational.


Before the creation of the KERA, Laura Clay and Henrietta Chenault of Lexington planned a lecture tour by the popular Zerelda G. Wallace of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, who would include the less popular topic of woman's suffrage in her speeches. The idea was to assure conservative locals that giving women the right to vote would guarantee victory for prohibition as well as other social improvements.

Child labor laws

As part of their efforts to protect children, especially those living in poverty and victims of domestic violence, the KERA lobbied for and won legislation in 1896 to establish reform schools for both girls and boys. By the turn of the century, Kentucky established juvenile courts that treated children differently in the justice system. KERA won Kentucky's child labor law despite the agrarian and mining business interests, and raised the age of consent from twelve to sixteen.

Nineteenth Amendment

The National American Woman Suffrage Association, determined to impress Southern legislators with the urgency of their cause, determined to tour the South. In 1894, Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt started out from Lexington, Kentucky on their tour and stopped in Wilmore, Louisville, Owensboro (where they formed a local club for the KERA) and Paducah. From there, Anthony and Catt spoke in Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Virginia. Many Kentucky women activists held leadership roles in all the national organizations.

By 1910, the woman suffrage issue had become more fashionable and big donors had created larger coffers from which state and national suffrage organizations could draw for lobbying and extended publicity campaigns. The KERA constitution was amended in 1910 to make the term for presidency three years and no longer allow an incumbent to win a succeeding term. Laura Clay, who had continuously won election as president since the founding of KERA, stepped down in 1912 and Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, a strong Progressive reformer, was elected to serve until 1915; she also served as second vice-president of the NAWSA. On January 14, 1914, Breckinridge and Clay addressed the Kentucky legislature in joint session in celebration of the woman's suffrage bills finally moving out of committee. The daughter of Mary B. Clay (later Bennett) and niece of Laura Clay, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett (wife of T. Jefferson) Smith, won the presidency in 1915. She served for only one year then moved on to work for the national association. Her term was carried out by Christine Bradley South, and then Breckinridge was elected president again in 1919.

When the U.S. Senate finally approved a federal amendment for woman suffrage on June 4, 1919, Laura Clay resigned from KERA. In a public debate with KERA President Breckinridge, Clay argued that KERA had made an error in abandoning efforts for a state law for presidential suffrage which was needed in order to be consistent with the Kentucky constitution.

During contentious debate, the Kentucky General Assembly approved ratification of the 19th Amendment by a vote of 72 to 25 in the House and 30 to 8 in the Senate. KERA members were present as Governor Edwin P. Morrow signed the ratification bill on January 6, 1920. Kentucky was the twenty-third state, one of only four Southern states, to approve the proposed amendment which became law on August 26, 1920.

At the thirtieth annual meeting, held in early January 1920, the KERA membership voted that as soon as the ratification of the federal amendment was complete, the Kentucky Equal Rights Association should transmute itself into a Kentucky League of Women Voters. This finally happened on December 15, 1920.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Kerr, Andrea Moore (1995). Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 210.
  2. ^ Fuller, Paul (1975). "Winning Rights for Kentucky Women, 1888-1895". Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-0808-X.
  3. ^ "Laura Clay papers, 1882-1941, 1906-1920 (bulk dates)", 1M46M4, University of Kentucky: Special Collections, retrieved 2011-04-04
  4. ^ Knott, Claudia (1989), The Woman Suffrage Movement in Kentucky, 1879-1920 (PhD dissertation), University of Kentucky
  5. ^ Hay, Melba (2009). Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p. 240.


External links

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