Breckinridge, M. McD. Some Reasons for Granting School Suffrage to Kentucky Women. May 1910

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Author: M. [Madeline] McD. [McDowell] Breckinridge

Title: “Some Reasons for Granting School Suffrage to Kentucky Women,” Part I, May 1910

Publisher: Madeline McDowell Breckinridge Papers, box 6, folder 48, University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center, Lexington, Ky.

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Some Reasons for Granting School Suffrage to Kentucky Women: The Results of Male Domination; Comparisons with the States Having Full Suffrage for Women are Odious to Kentucky.


Perhaps the strongest argument for admitting women in Kentucky to school suffrage is the result obtained by seventy-one years of practically unadulterated male management of the public schools. According to one table of illiteracy, Kentucky stands fourth from the bottom in the list of States and territories. By every table, whether it deal with illiterates between the ages of ten and twenty - the coming generation, with adult illiterates, or with the whole population, Kentucky stands always disgracefully far down the line.

What It Does.

When the fifty States and territories are ranked by per cent of illiteracy in the native white population ten years of age and over, of the first fourteen States having less than one per cent of illiteracy, all but one have school suffrage for women; of the last twelve having over 10 per cent of illiteracy, not one has school suffrage for women In the latter group is Kentucky: she stands forty-third in the column with over twelver per cent of illiteracy.

When Kentucky is compared with any of the twenty-eight States in which school suffrage has been granted to women the comparison must make her hang her head in shame. If we estimate school conditions by certain salient facts as to length of term, attendance at the term, comparison of attendance of children of school age, salaries of teachers or amount spent per capita for the education of the young, we find always the same story. Michigan, for instance, spends $23.50 per capita of the average school attendance where Kentucky spends $8.50. The average length of term in Minnesota is one hundred and sixty-five days, while it is one hundred days in Kentucky. The average monthly salary paid to teachers in Kentucky is $39.18 to women and $50.90 to men, while in Massachusetts it is $57.22 to women and $149.05 to men.

Are Men Fit for Suffrage?

It seems that the thing to be argued in Kentucky is not whether women are fit for school suffrage but whether men are fit for it. If their right to participate in school affairs is shown by their interest we should be obliged to admit the negative of the proposition. Under our old district law it was estimated that about two-thirds of the district trustees had to be appointed by county superintendents because no elections were held; the men simply did not take sufficient interest to go to the polls and vote on school affairs. Under the new law there has been an improvement, but many of the trustees still have to be appointed.

Existing Conditions.

And what sort of schools have we gotten as a result of male management. There are in the State over seven hundred log school houses, many of them with no desks, with benches without backs, devoid of maps, pictures, libraries, or the necessary equipment for teaching.

And what of the teachers inside these schools? For with General Garfield, who said that if Mark Hopkins were on one end of a log and a student on the other there would be a university, we have always felt that the material condition of school houses was a very small matter as compared with the teachers within the school houses. There were in the State of Kentucky - and we venture to say there are now - teachers whose education is so limited that they might justly be classed as illiterate. There were - and are, we feel sure - teachers who certificates have been obtained by fraud. There were and are, unfortunately, teachers whose moral character in more ways than this is reprehensible.

These conditions are being somewhat improved, but they are by no means remedied as yet. The last report of our State Superintendent of Public Instruction states that approximately three hundred thousand children are in regular attendance in the schools, while more than four hundred thousand children of school age in the State are not in any school.

Have men shown by their record their sole fitness to control the school system of Kentucky?

M.McD. Breckinridge. May, 1910.


In this tract that was widely shared as a result of the defeat for restoring school suffrage in the Kentucky legislature in February 1910, Breckinridge laid out a case for why Kentucky needs to grant school suffrage to Kentucky women.  She argued first and foremost that in states where the school franchise exists, adult illiteracy was the lowest. Citing Kentucky’s short school year, lack of funding, and lack of attendance, she wondered: “It seems that the thing to be argued in Kentucky was not whether women are fit for school suffrage but whether men are fit for it.” That summer the Lexington Civic League worked with the Lexington School Board to approve the creation of a model school for poor white children - it finally opened in 1912 as the Lincoln School. See also the KWSP Votes for Women Trail digital map entry in Richmond at the Eastern Kentucky State Normal School where Madeline McDowell Breckinridge spoke on school suffrage in May 1911 -