"Good Morning Earlington:
Those FIRST Women"
Making my weekly pilgrimage to the Post Office now at the end of East Main, I ran into Tommy Allen (‘55EHS ) who suggested that I might like to print the 2001 officers of the Civic Club. They are president Patricia Walters, vice-president Kermit Burns, and secretary/treasurer Roger Pedro. Tommy mentioned that this is the first time that the Civic Club had had a female president although Nancy Moore (postmasters) was vice president in ‘97 and ‘98. He added that it hadn’t been many years since the Civic Club which was formed in 1939 as a "men’s club" had changed their by-laws allowing women to join. Strangely enough (and not really being a feminist) I had thought little about the fact that even in Earlington women were not considered as viable candidates for certain organizations or jobs. Other women had paved the way for me--a fact in the main that I have overlooked. So, I pondered that for a few days and began to make a list of women who were "firsts" in what earlier were typically "men’s positions." That sounded like an easy job and I thought I could work it into a story.
Well, we might have "come a long way, baby," but I soon realized that few people here had taken much notice. Although I usually I rely on memory for most of my facts, this time I decided to do more research. First, I checked out what little there is of written Earlington history. I asked questions of the "good ole boys" and gals. Hmmm! Seems no one else had thought much about it either. Anyway, with scant information available here’s what we came up with. Feel free to disagree!
At the turn of the 20th century most positions for women outside of the home were telephone operators, banktellers, clerks/secretaries, or teachers. In the field of education, I was not surprised to learn that all five superintendents were men. However, I found four female principals. In 1888 when St. Bernard first built the school here Miss Mary Dorris Wilson became the first principal in a town of 700-800. When John B. Atkinson Memorial High School was opened in 1902, Miss Minnie Bourland (daughter of Henry a carpenter from Illinois) became its first principal at the age of 41. A second female principal was Alice Miller, and the third was Miss Crittendon Hickman in 1921. The first school board female member I could find was Mrs. L.E. McEuen in 192l. Although I could find no information about her , I do not believe she was (Mrs. Thomas)"Aunt Bess" McEuen of the St. Bernard Hotel on E. Main.
And speaking of the Hotel, Mrs. C.C. Lamb (Miss Bonnie’s mother) came to town in 1923 as manager there. Down the street at the Earlington Bank Pauline Thomas (EHS ‘22) became a bookkeeper after graduating and remained until her retirement. This job was previously held by Fletcher McCord.
Females owning major businesses here seemed scarce as hen’s (notice the female gender) teeth. I found only a few early ones. The first was in 1870 when Mrs. Germane, a French widow who later married miner Zack Richards, become the first landlady at the town’s first house (built as a boarding house) near the opening of #11 mines of St. Bernard. However, I would be delinquent if I failed to note that several businesses for which men were given credit of "running" were actually run completely by their wives. Many of these were boarding houses which were numerous during the early years with so many migrant workers. I will, nevertheless, keep these owners anonymous.
Mrs. Hanna became a businesswoman on the death of her husband owner of Earlington Machine Works which manufactured mining shaker screens. The machine shop was well known throughout Western Kentucky. Margaret Mitchell Moore also became a widow and subsequent owner (‘47-’56) of the Paul Moore Insurance Company which her husband established in 1885. Another well known female businesswoman was Edith Price Reid (EHS ‘25) who was a partner with her husband Hubert and his brother Elmo in Reid’s Funeral Home. A final entrepreneur was Mrs. Liz Harding who operated Harding Cleaning Company with her daughter Nell. At various times there have been a number of groceries, restaurants, sundry shops, and beauty salons. I am neither ignoring the fact of their existence nor of the many women who worked long and hard, but these are too numerous for me to list.
Women were not elected to city government positions until 1974 when Miss Fern Stokes (EHS, ‘15) and Mrs. Helen Trover became councilwomen under Mayor Bill Cunniff. The first elected Black woman was Mrs. Marion Gill to councilwoman (who was recently followed by Barbara Chase). In ‘94 Mary Shelton became the first female mayor. Oda B. Crenshaw was the first female city clerk ( following A. P. Prather).
The federal government appears to have had little problem hiring female clerks. I am unsure who the first of these were as both Eula Lee Carrol (who worked with Bufford Webb, EHS,’23) and Mattie Davis were clerks in the ‘20’s. Mattie Helen Francis (EHS,’31) who worked with postmaster Jewell Webb, says that Mattie Davis was still working when she became a clerk in ‘31. Helen Miller Qualls (EHS, ’31) and Verna Walker (mother of Kenneth) were clerks when the post office was located on Railroad Street next to Polly’s Market (1928-63.) Larue Oldham Morgan (EHS,‘38) worked with Bill Basset from ‘41 to ‘46 when she left on maternity leave and was replaced by Vivian Bryum who also became Officer in Charge until Tommy Allen became postmaster. According to Tommy Allen and Nancy Moore we have had several female part-time flexible careen employees. They were Sharon Allen, Brenda Eastwood, Elizabeth Stone, and Phyllis Blandford. But as for a female postmaster--you guessed it! We’re back to the Civic Club and its first female officer--Nancy Moore. Nancy is the first and only woman to hold the position of postmaster in Earlington and has done so since 1992.
It seemed up to the Earlington Fire Department to pave the way for some of our "first" women. Earlington was the first in the county to allow a woman-- Christine Cloren--on Squad 4. Others were Diane Blair, Van Leatherman, Tonya Chamberlain, Tina Cloren, Debbie Hicks, Francis Patterson, and Barbara Hamilton. Christine, Diane, Van, and Tonya were also EMTs. As far as other medical personnel, Earlington seems to have had only one female physician and she was Dr. Vani Chilukuri although there have been several resident female doctors on rotation to our satellite office.
I am sure I have omitted some of the early pioneer women who took on positions which had here-to-fore only been held by men. I began this research out of curiosity and have come to appreciate some of the trials these women must have encountered even just to apply for their positions. Theirs was a different time with different attitudes. It is something that today most of us take for granted, but we must never take any freedom for granted. So here I must mention five other women. They are those who volunteered in World War II -- WAC Pfc. Jean Randolph and Army nurses 2nd Lt. Ann Donohue (EHS ‘31), Norma Henify, and Virginia Kilroy and Navy enlistee Billy Bernard Stokes. These ladies like many men in the 1940’s learned first-hand the fragility of freedom. Let us never forget those who came before us and earned for us the freedom that we too often take for granted. Ladies, thank you for your courage and for this legacy!
Ann Gipson 12-14-2001