Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association, 1881 Constitution and Charter Members

Randolph Hollingsworth's picture

As part of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project, H-Kentucky offers images of the original Constitution of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association (KWSA) adopted on October 27, 1881 - with many thanks to Sarah Dorpinhaus, Director of Digital Services in the University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center. The Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association was founded after an American Woman Suffrage Association meeting in Louisville. The KWSA was the first woman suffrage organization to represent a state in the South. Similar to the AWSA, the KWSA encouraged men to be members and that "No distinction on account of sex shall ever be made in the membership or in the selection of officers of this Society."

Here is a brief narrative to provide a little context about the formation of the KWSA and its charter members. Susan Look Avery, a philanthropist and orator, was by that time very involved in equal rights in Louisville and in Wyoming, New York where she had homes. Avery hosted Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell at her mansion on South Fourth Street when they convened the AWSA convention there in Louisville in 1881 (the first national convention held in the South). Virginia Penny, an economist also from Louisville, had known Lucy Stone since the 1860s when Penny was a Vice-President of the American Equal Rights Association. Other important players in the founding of this state organization were the Clay women. Mary Jane Warfield Clay had left her husband Cassius Clay and was living in Lexington by then, supporting the suffrage work of her daughters, Mary Barr Clay, and Sarah "Sallie" Clay Bennett both of whom had by this time had already begun working for the national suffrage movement. Mary and Sallie were leaders in both the AWSA and the National Woman Suffrage Association. Their mother would mail newspapers and pamphlets to her other daughter Laura at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to keep her informed. After the AWSA convention in Louisville, a group of twenty-five men and women signed the founding constitution of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association. Laura Clay was elected President and Col. John H. Ward of Louisville was elected Vice-President, with Sylvia Goddard as Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. A.C. Bowser as Recording Secretary, Mrs. E.T. Housh as Treasurer, and Mrs. Sarah Pratt Carr as Chairman of the Executive Committee. 

We are still seeking evidence to analyze what happened with this early version of the state-wide suffrage association and we are eager to find out more about the founding members. If you follow the KWSP Timeline for this period before the formation of the better known Kentucky Equal Rights Association in 1888, members of the KWSA were active in lobbying for women's rights at local, regional and national levels. This primary source resource can be found in the Laura Clay Papers, Box 15, folder 11 (see citation below).


"Constitution of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association. Adopted October 27, 1881." Laura Clay Papers, 46m4, Box 15, folder 11. University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center, Lexington, Kentucky.
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