Submitted for the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project by Esta Tovstiadi, librarian, SUNY at Potsdam, Potsdam N.Y.
Mrs. E. L. Hutchinson (also known as Jessie Leigh) was born in either 1881 or 1882 in Little Rock Arkansas, the daughter of Louise Pantley and James Gilbert Leigh. Jessie was raised in a socially prominent family. Her father was a successful insurance man and a decorated Confederate war veteran. Jessie graduated from Little Rock Peabody High School in 1896, valedictorian of her class. In the years following high school she served as an assistant mathematics and English teacher at Arkansas Woman’s College and she became involved in social reform, serving on the First Methodist Church’s Charity and Help Committee. The highlight of her of young adulthood came perhaps in 1900 when she was named “sponsor,” representing Little Rock Confederate Veterans at the United Confederate Veterans reunion held in Louisville. As historian Gaines Foster notes, recognizing young, lovely women and placing them in a position of honor became an important tradition at these reunion events.
Jessie married Edward L. Hutchinson, a prominent Lexington, Kentucky attorney and banker, at her home in Little Rock on October 15, 1901, in what was predicted to be “one of the leading society events” to be held in the Arkansas capital. The affair, called an “An American Beauty” wedding for the prolific roses it featured, attracted more than 600 guests. Following the wedding, the new Mrs. E. L. Hutchinson moved to Lexington. The couple resided at 631 East Main Street. They never had any children.
Jessie was deeply involved in woman’s suffrage and later women’s voting movements. She was a member of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA), serving as the First Vice President from 1912-15. She resumed her role as Vice President in 1917, just as the U. S. entered World War I. She made the war effort a priority for KERA, raising funds to support the Overseas Hospital and sponsoring an ambulance named “Laura Clay” in the leader’s honor. She later served as president of the Kentucky League of Women Voters from 1923-24. As President, Jessie was the voice and public face of the organization. She penned several letters to officials, including one to Kentucky Governor William J. Fields, thanking him for his decision to reappoint the current members of the State Board of Charities and Corrections shortly after his inauguration in 1923. The following year, she distributed surveys to candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, gathering information on candidates’ positions on issues important to women voters.
Jessie was an activist in other areas as well. In April 1916 she signed a letter condemning the actions of Lexington Judge John J. Riley, who had previously remarked that “police court was no place for women,” according to the Lexington Herald. Three years later, she signed a letter applauding the work of the Lexington Charity Society, previously known as the “Children’s Home,” an orphanage located in Fayette County. She also authored several columns honoring women activists, including Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, as well as Lena Scott Flood, a Sunday School teacher at the First Presbyterian Church in Lexington. In February 1924 she wrote a letter on behalf of the League to Kentucky Senators Stanley and Ernst, expressing opposition to a bill on the grounds that it would strip women of their legal protections as mothers. Simultaneously, the letter voiced support for the creation of a state children’s bureau. In 1930 she was a member of a committee of women from Fayette County focused on improving conditions at Eastern State Hospital by advocating for better funding from the State Board of Charities and Corrections. She also held an office in the Woman’s Club of Central Kentucky and was a leader in the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Jessie died January 19, 1932. She died the same way the she lived: she was attending a meeting of social workers at the Lafayette Hotel in Lexington when she suffered a heart attack after giving a speech. “Lexington is Indeed Poorer,” the Lexington Leader lamented in a column honoring her work, days after her death. Her funeral was held at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, and she was buried in Little Rock. In December of 1935 a stained-glass window at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington was dedicated in her memory.
KWSP Votes for Women Trail, "Site for the funeral of Jessie Leigh Hutchinson," H-Kentucky Network, https://networks.h-net.org/jessie-leigh-hutchinson.
“Captain J. G. Leigh Died,” Daily Arkansas Gazette, March 16, 1902, 1.
“Vale, School Days,” Arkansas Gazette, June 5, 1896, 3.
“Arkansas Woman’s College,” Arkansas Democrat, July 1, 1899, 4.
“Epworth League,” Arkansas Gazette, November 14, 1897, 3.
“Jessie Leigh,” Arkansas Gazette, May 1, 1900, 3.
Foster, Gaines M. Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause and the Emergence of the New South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
“Notes about Society,” Owensboro Messenger, October 6, 1901, 12.
“In Society,” Arkansas Gazette, October 13, 1901, 10.
“Wedded Last Night,” Arkansas Gazette, October 16, 1901, 8.
"About Us," League of Women Voters of Kentucky, https://lwvky.org/about/.
Lexington City Directory, 1902-1903; Lexington City Directory, 1921.
“Two Stories from the Past in Which Riley Drew Volleys of Condemnation on Himself,” Lexington Herald, November 2, 1917.
“The League of Women Voters Was Last Activity and Last in Thoughts of Madeline McDowell Breckinridge,” Lexington Herald, April 17, 1921.
“Fields Is Commended by Women Voters League,” Lexington Herald, December 17, 1923.
“Dear Mr. Fields,” Lexington Herald, December 18, 1923.
“Blanket Measure Opposed by Women,” Lexington Herald, February 3, 1924.
“Women Votes Seek Attitudes of Candidates,” Lexington Herald, July 12, 1924.
“Request Funds for Hospital,” Lexington Herald, October 27, 1930.
“Will Conduct Funeral Today,” Lexington Herald, January 21, 1932.
“Window Will Be Dedicated,” Lexington Herald, December 27, 1935.
“Social and Personal,” Lexington Leader, October 13, 1901.
“Urge Support of Children’s Home,” Lexington Leader, November 23, 1919.
“Church Will Honor Leader,” Lexington Leader, December 26, 1935.