Mary Elliott Flanery, first female state legislator elected in Kentucky and the South

Randolph Hollingsworth's picture

When Mary Elliott Flanery (D-Catlettsburg) of Boyd County took her seat in the lower house of the General Assembly in January 1922, she was the first female state legislator elected in Kentucky and the first female legislator elected south of the Mason–Dixon line. The 1921 state elections in the South were crucial in justifying the fight for women's right to participate in electoral politics. The elections in Boyd County (for the Kentucky House of Representatives District No. 89) held in November 8, 1921, provided a first for women in Kentucky. After her swearing-in ceremony on January 3rd, Flanery was honored with the plum job of nominating the Speaker of the House of Representatives - Hon. James II. Thompson of Bourbon County - and then the various positions on the floor (including her son as page) who subsequently all won their elections. She was appointed to the following standing Committees of the House; Classifications of Cities and Towns, Confederate Home (chair); and, Normal Schools. She presented several resolutions in that first session, including one regarding the presentation to the Commonwealth of Kentucky by Jessie Leigh Hutchinson on behalf of the members of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association a portrait of Madeline McDowell Breckinridge on January 16, 1922 (Journal, 175-176).

The Catlettsburg Daily Press had since the 1890s offered space for the Kentucky Equal Rights Association's press releases from Lida Calvert Obenchain (see for example her 1894 report in the KERA Minutes). So, it is likely that Flanery had long been well versed in KERA policies and strategies. A former teacher in Elliot and Carter counties in eastern Kentucky, Representative Flanery presented the bill that created the Morehead State Teachers College. She had served as a journalist since 1904 and wrote primarily about women's suffrage and education. In 1908 she personally paid for the publication of the poetry of Pikeville native, Effie Waller Smith. Flanery was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and in 1926 she founded the John Milton Elliott chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She served as president of the Democratic Woman's Club of Kentucky and as a member of the state Democratic Central Committee.

The other "firsts" for women elected to a Southern state's legislature can be found in Arkansas: Miss Erle Chambers and Mrs. Frances Matthew Jones Hunt were both elected to the Arkansas General Assembly (House of Representatives) in 1922.  Arkansas legislative sessions take place on odd years so Chambers and Hunt were sworn in January 1923.

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