Working across racial boundaries in Bell County for women's suffrage

Randolph Hollingsworth's picture

While updating items on the Kentucky "Votes for Women" Trail digital map, I came across a wonderful bit of information reported by Stella Thompson Helburn, secretary for the Bell County Suffrage League, to the Kentucky Equal Rights Association convention in 1915.

Led by Mrs. Joseph T. Alderson, the Bell County Suffrage League campaigned in 1915 for improvements in the public schools - working to get new school board members elected. They sent out their preferred candidates' information and walked door-to-door, urging men and women to vote for their candidates. According to Mrs. Helburn's report, a League member (unnamed) was sent to present at the "Colored Women's Improvement Club" about the upcoming school board election. The topic was of great importance to the African-American community of Middlesboro since the first school for black children was not established there until 1892. They had recently invested in the Lincoln High School built in 1907 - by 1925 there would be four teachers in the elementary school and two teachers in the high school. The women's names were not included in the report. Of the ten members of the Improvement Club, nine registered to vote, and eight successfully voted. This is a good percentage of the total of 55 women who registered to vote for the new school board candidates - and 40 total women who actually voted in that election.

Mrs. Helburn triumphantly ends her report on the election stating that the new school board will take their job seriously, "thus doing away with old influences and showing what 'Votes for Women' mean in any community."