Recognizing women’s history
Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
We’ve written before about the strength of Appalachian women in this series before, but two different articles, side-by-side on the same scrapbook page, caught my eye this week.
March is Women’s History Month, but I wasn’t looking to do a women’s story this week. Instead I was intent on finding a column I’d seen about giant vegetables – because I’m ready for things to warm up and to get a garden started after all this ice and snow, and I’m sure many of you are as well.
Fate intervened though when my eyes fell on a headline, “Democrats Defeat Woman Suffrage,” next to a headline that read simply, “Mrs. Cora-Wilson Stewart.”
The articles, which ran a week apart in February, 1914 issues of the Progressive, show the disconnect between what we were celebrating women for accomplishing and what we were holding them back from.
The first article, dated February 19, 1914, explains how House Democrats used the old canard of “state’s rights” to eschew support of women’s suffrage at the federal level. While President Woodrow Wilson personally supported women’s suffrage, his southern Democrat allies were opposed to an amendment to the constitution. They wanted the female vote to be an issue that states could decide on, and Wilson caved to their pressure.
By 1918 he would publicly call for a national amendment granting women the right to vote – noting their contributions to the war effort during WWI – but in 1914 the hoped for support from the “progressive” president wasn’t forthcoming.
Meanwhile the item from the following week, February 26, 1914, on Mrs. Cora-Wilson Stewart points out that while women weren’t trusted with the vote, they were trusted with running entire school systems and even courted for helping reform prison education systems.
The deceivingly modest headline shields a story about an exceptional career spent as an educator and newspaper editor, with a focus toward battling illiteracy in rural eastern Kentucky.
Because of her work with promoting literacy through “Moonlight Schools” Stewart was approached by the Prison Board Commission about taking a position as the assistant Superintendent of the House of Reform at Greendale. Though it was reported that she chose to decline the offer, the article also noted that Stewart had been awarded the Clara Barton Medal for her educational work as well.
Quite an interesting dichotomy between obvious talent and what we would allow women to do in that time period.
“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” goes an old saying which has always seemed, to me, to be rather disrespectful. Maybe, sometimes, it isn’t – or wasn’t – that those who teach couldn’t “do,” but that they weren’t allowed to do. Thankfully for Kentucky, people like Cora-Wilson Stewart did anyway.
. Editor’s Note: This is the 34th in a series of articles drawn from historical newspaper clippings.