Important Women in Kentucky History

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Mary Breckinridge (February 17, 1881 – May 16, 1965), American nurse-midwife and the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service

Being important doesn’t always bring fame.

Sometimes, fame can be relative – being well-known in the world of medicine or education. Few of the largest contributions made by women are common knowledge to the American public. It’s time we change all that.

Sophia Kindrick Alcorn (1883-1967)

Alcorn spent her life teaching deaf and blind children. She developed the Tad-Oma method (named after two of her students) to help her students learn to speak by feeling vibrations from their teacher’s lips and cheeks. She also created Alcorn Symbols which are written characters to aid in the speech development of the students. The Tad-Oma method is still used all over the world.

Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965)

According to The Center for Nursing Advocacy, Breckinridge developed an interest in nursing after the deaths of her husband and children. She focused on providing medical care to rural families who had little access to doctors. Breckinridge founded Frontier Nursing Service, providing care for infants and families in rural Kentucky. In fact, she is credited with bringing nurse-midwifery to the U.S. Back in the early 1900s, women gave birth at home with only the help of family and neighbors. Mortality rates were high – 800 women for every 100,000 live births and 100 out of every 1000 children. Breckinridge and the FNS managed to lower these statistics, boasting only 11 women dying in childbirth in the organization’s first fifty years.

Lt. Anna Mac Clarke (1919-1944)

Not able to find work after finishing school, Clarke joined the All-Volunteer Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She ended up making history as the first African American woman lead a white platoon. She also helped end segregation at Douglas Army Air Field.

Jane Todd Crawford (1763-1842)

Crawford found notoriety not as the doctor, but as the patient of the first ovarian surgery. According to the McDowell House Museum, Crawford thought she was having twins, but Dr. McDowell found instead an ovarian tumor weighing in at just over 22 pounds. The most impressive part is Crawford underwent her surgery without anesthesia. How she made it through the procedure can only be imagined, but it was the first successful removal of an ovarian tumor in the world.

Julia Britton Hooks (1852-1942)

One of the first African American women to attend college, Hooks went on to be one of the first to teach white students in Kentucky.

Lyda “Gertrude” Ramey (1909-1991)

Ramey’s family died of influenza, leaving her without a family and without a home. Moving from place to place, she eventually founded The Ramey Home for abandoned and neglected children.

Carol Sutton (1934-1985)

As the first female managing editor of a major newspaper, Sutton took the publication from society news and household hints to an informative view on culture and the economy.