Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Votes for Women

August 26 marks the 88th anniversary of the 1920 passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. In Kentucky, the name Laura Clay (1849-1941) is synonymous with women’s suffrage. Born to politician Cassius Clay and Mary Jane Warfield Clay, Laura was educated at Sayre Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, and observed her mother running the daily operations of the family’s 300 acre estate, White Hall. When her parents divorced in 1878, Laura’s mother was left destitute and homeless due to laws refusing women’s claims to property. Clay credited this as the turning point which led to her decision to fight for gender equality.

Working with Susan B. Anthony to organize suffragists in the state, Clay co-founded the Kentucky Equal Rights Association in 1888 and served as president until 1912. She was active in championing state legislation which led to increased age of consent, the right of women to enroll in formerly male-only institutions, women’s rights to make and sign binding contracts, and the right of women to control real estate. Clay was opposed to the ratification of the 19th amendment however, because she firmly believed in state’s rights and felt that the decision giving women the right to vote should have been made at the state, rather than federal, level.
After ratification, Clay became a founder of the Democratic Women’s Club of Kentucky, became the first woman to receive a vote for the presidential nomination in 1920, and ran unsuccessfully for Kentucky Senate in 1923. She was active in speaking out and writing letters on contemporary equality issues until her death in 1941.

Photos: Laura Clay and fellow suffragists marching for the Kentucky Equal Rights Association at the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis (top). Kentucky Governor Laffoon handing the gavel to Clay to ratify the 21st Amendment (Prohibition), November 27, 1933 (bottom).

For more information on Laura Clay, see the Laura Clay Photographic collection, and Laura Clay: Early Kentucky Suffragist.
-- JC

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