Mary Eleanor Tarrant Little, 1872-1917: Louisville Social Reformer and Suffragist

Mary Eleanor Tarrant was born in 1872 in Macon, Mississippi. Her father, Samuel Tarrant, was a civil war veteran and worked as a merchant (in what business is not recorded). Her mother, Eliza Watkins Selleck Tarrant, seems to have had no paying job when Eleanor was born. When the family moved to Louisville sometime in the 1880s, however, Eliza Tarrant kept a boarding house, and when she and her husband moved to Chicago around 1900, she pursued this occupation there.

Kentucky legislature refuses to return to partial suffrage for women again

In addition to her many other social reform campaigns, including the building of a state tuberculosis sanitorium, Madeline McDowell Breckinridge lobbied in the early years of the 20th century for the restoration of Kentucky women's right to vote in school board elections.

Kentucky white women win school suffrage rights statewide

In 1908, 1910, and 1912, the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs (whites only) lobbied and proposed school suffrage in Kentucky, finally winning it back in 1912 with an added proviso (just for women) of a “literacy” test.


See more at Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter, A New History of Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997), 288.

Knott, Claudia. “The Woman Suffrage Movement in Kentucky, 1879-1920.” PhD diss., University of Kentucky, 1989.

Author(s)/Editor(s): Claudia Knott        

Title: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Kentucky, 1879-1920

Publisher: University of Kentucky, Ph.D. Diss.

Date of Publication: 1989

First statewide woman suffrage law

Kentucky passed the first statewide woman suffrage law (since New Jersey revoked theirs with their new constitution in 1807) – allowing female heads of household to vote in elections deciding on taxes and local boards for the new county “common school” system. The law exempted the cities of Louisville, Lexington and Maysville since they had already adopted a system of public schools.

School Suffrage Granted in Second Class Cities

School suffrage is granted to women in second-class cities in Kentucky. This means that women in Lexington, Covington, and Newport are “eligible as members of the Board of Education and qualified to vote for the same.”


Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Minutes of the Seventh Annual Convention, Held at Merrick Lodge, Lexington, KY, 1894 (Covington: Ledger Printing Co.), 12. 


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