In 1978, the Kentucky Commission on Women started a campaign to bring attention to outstanding women who made significant contributions to Kentucky’s history.
The project, then called “Kentucky Women Excel” began as an exhibit at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair. Tens of thousands of Kentuckians viewed the watercolor portraits of six women from various backgrounds who worked in non-traditional ways during the eras in which they lived. Initially, when funds permitted, the collection of portraits was a traveling exhibit. But the Kentucky Commission on Women, in an effort to establish women’s rightful place in Kentucky’s history lobbied to have the portraits hung in the Kentucky State Capitol, creating a more appropriate balance to the statues and busts of men. In 1996, the Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit found a permanent home in the West Wing and includes more than 60 portraits of Kentucky’s outstanding women.


Many of the portraits have additional information and video segments associated with them. Simply click on the links provided to access this additional information. To access all seventy portraits, please note there are two pages of portraits available on this site.

t7(Barren County, 1906-1992) In an era harsh for both women and African Americans, Willa Beatrice Brown sought great challenge. Influenced by aviatrix Bessie Coleman, in 1934 Brown began flight lessons at Chicago’s Aeronautical University. In 1942, she became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a teacher in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Brown trained more than 2,000 black pilots, nearly 200 of which became the Squadron at Tuskegee Institute, better known as the legendary “Tuskegee Airmen.” READ MORE AND WATCH THE WILLA BEATRICE BROWN VIDEO SEGMENT.

t1(Kenton County, 1857-1941) Dr. Louise Southgate was one of the first women physicians in Northern Kentucky, where she practiced for over 35 years. In addition to her work as a physician, Southgate was an ardent suffragist. She participated in the 1910 Kentucky’s Equal Rights Association conference held in Covington. READ MORE AND WATCH THE LOUISE SOUTHGATE VIDEO SEGMENT.

t3(Pike County, 1940 – ) Judi Conway Patton tackled tough issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and breast cancer in her role as First Lady. She was a tireless champion for the protection of families and children. Her sincerity and devotion to addressing serious issues in the Commonwealth are praised by the media and deeply appreciated by the people of Kentucky.

t6(Fayette County, 1928 – ) Jacqueline Noonan began her career as a pediatric cardiologist in 1955 with her residency in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Noonan’s skills in research led to her original description on hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which is now known as Noonan Heart Syndrome. Her research has also led her to publish over 70 peer-reviewed scientific articles. She has received many awards for her scientific research and skills as a pediatric cardiologist. From 1964 to the present, Dr. Noonan has served as a Professor at the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine, where is was one of the first faculty members. For almost 20 years, Dr. Noonan chaired the Department of Pediatrics. Not only are Dr. Noonan’s skills highly appreciated in the United States, but also aboard. Dr. Noonan has traveled extensively as a visiting professor where she has taught residents as well as evaluated many pediatric programs. Dr. Noonan has served on many boards, committees, and editorial boards during her tenure at the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine.

t5(Fayette County, 1924) Born and educated in Boston, Lillian Henken Press moved to Kentucky with her husband in 1952 as a young woman and has called the Commonwealth home ever since. She has accrued a lifetime of public service to her adopted state and its citizens. However, her achievements in three fields have had, and continue to have, lasting impact on the citizens of Kentucky. In 1992, Lil was awarded an honorary degree from Centre College. She was appointed to the Centre College Board of Trustees in 1994 and continues as a Trustee 16 years later. READ MORE ABOUT LILLIAN PRESS.

t4(Shelby County, 1799-1880) At a time when education was considered by many to be wasted on women, Julie Ann Hieronymus Tevis was emphatic in her belief that learning science was appropriate for women. She and her husband founded Science Hill Academy in 1825 to fill void of higher education for women.

t7(Christian County, 1926-2006) The first Kentucky woman nominated as a U.S. Senate candidate, Katherine Graham Peden served on the first President’s Commission on the Status of Women, and was the first woman appointed as Commissioner of Commerce in Kentucky. She also served as the national president of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. She was active for decades in economic growth issues at the national and state level.

t1(Kenton County, 1941-1991) Judy Moberly West was the first woman appointed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. She served as District Judge in the Kenton District Court for three terms until her Appeals Court appointment. In addition to her judicial accomplishments, Judge West served as President and Founder of the Hope Cottage Guild and on the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

t3(Fayette County, 1910-1997) Harriet Van Meter founded the International Book Project, shipping millions of books, procured though private donations, all over the world. Operated from her basement for 20 years, the project continues to carry on Van Meter’s mission to feed the hunger for books in developing countries and needy areas of United States. Convinced that exposure to cultural differences would enrich our lives, foster global friendships, and strengthen world unity, Van Meter touched lives in Kentucky and all over the world with her selfless dedication of time, energy, and money.

t6(Boyd County, 1909–1991) At nine, Gertrude Ramey’s life changed when her mother and siblings died of influenza, which forced Ms. Ramey to move from one home to another. The loneliness and homelessness helped Ms. Ramey empathize with those she would later spend her life caring for and loving. At 25 years old, she moved to Catlettsburg, Kentucky to open up a boarding house for defense workers. Three years later, Ms. Ramey spoke to the local Judge about keeping abandoned and neglected children whose only place to go was the jail or the poorhouse. In 1944, Ms. Ramey opened her very own children’s home, the Ramey Home. At the peak of The Ramey Home, more than 50 children lived with her. Ms. Ramey retired in 1988 after 45 years of working with children. However, she never really retired since she lived at the Ramey Home and continued to work closely with the new executive director until her death in 1991. Over the years, more than 3000 children stayed with Ms. Ramey at the Ramey Home. Like a true mother, Ms. Ramey put her heart into the children and never once charged a cent for her work.

t5(Rowan and Fayette Counties, 1909-2002) Mary Lucille Caudill Little has contributed much to the performing arts and various institutions throughout Kentucky. An accomplished singer, Ms. Little studied at Julliard before returning to Kentucky and becoming an enthusiastic supporter of the arts. Her numerous civic contributions includes serving as Founder and former Director of the Lexington Children’s Theatre and Studio Players, and the Founder of the Bluegrass Girl Scout Council. To date, Ms. Little has given more than $21 million to area arts and education causes.

t4Boyd County, (1881-1982) Jeannette Bell Thomas preserved and promoted Eastern Kentucky traditions through her music and stories. As a young girl she dreamed of being an actress, but at 18, armed with a high school education and a four-month business certificate, she began work as a stenographer. While working for a circuit judge to keeping record of proceedings, she followed the judicial circuit through the mountains of Eastern Kentucky often boarding with local families. Thomas began to transcribe what she heard convinced the families’ orations had retained their original form from the 16th century. After 12 years as a stenographer, she traveled to New York to pursue her childhood dream. Although unsuccessful in show business, she used her stenographer skills to write simple scenarios for early silent films. Thomas was encouraged to introduce these stories and ballads to the outside world. In 1926, she “discovered” a blind fiddler from Rowan County, and negotiated a recording contract for him, arranged an international concert tour, and wrote her first of eight books about him. Through her eight books on life in the mountains she introduced the rest of the world to life in Appalachia. She returned to Ashland in 1931, and in 1932, created the first annual Folksong Festival. This festival lasted 40 years and highlighted the music from the mountains, attracting thousands each year.

t7(Harrison and Jefferson Counties, 1903-1966) Mary Peterson Gregg graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1924 with a degree in agriculture and home economics. She was one of the first nutritionists to suggest that American diets included too much meat and starch and not enough vegetables. In 1942, Gregg began a daily food column in the Louisville Courier Journal which continued for two decades, influencing and preserving many of Kentucky’s culinary traditions.

t1(Boone County, 1939-2004) Hannah Hume Baird’s life is a shining example of public service, activism, and dedication to improving the lives of women. She served on President Carter’s Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity for Women and as chair of the Kentucky’s Women’s Political Caucus and the Kentucky Commission on Women. She was also instrumental in restoring and establishing the historic Dinsmore Homestead in Boone County, Kentucky.

t3(Fayette County, 1890-1971) Myrtle Weldon led the efforts of Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Kentucky to improve the quality of rural life for woman in the Commonwealth. In a year’s time she organized home clubs in most of Kentucky’s one hundred and twenty counties, campaigning for financial assistance from fiscal courts.

t6(Barren County 1929-2008) Nelle Pitcock Horlander, who paved the way for women to lead in the labor movement, once dreamed of being a chemist until she was told the highest position for women chemists was washing test tubes. Disappointed, Horlander began her career in labor as a telephone operator for Southern Bell in Louisville. On her first day, she joined the Communications Workers of America Local 3310. She worked her way up the ranks to become the first woman communications consultant in 1964, and in the union, Horlander became the CWA steward within the first two years. In 1969, Horlander was elected its first female president. For over 50 years she served as a delegate to the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council and for 42 years as a delegate to the Kentucky State AFL-CIO conventions. Horlander’s respect and knowledge led to her service on several boards including the Center of Labor Education and Research for the University of Louisville and the University of Alabama, the Governor’s Commission on Full Equality, and the Kentucky Commission on Women. Horlander was a tireless fighter for women’s equality, fairness, and diversity. She was a founding member of the Kentucky Women Advocates, the PRO-ERA Alliance, Jefferson County NOW, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Network and Coalition of Labor Union Women. In 2004, Horlander was the first woman awarded the Kentucky Labor-Management Conference Labor Award.

t5(Jefferson County, 1911-2011) Sally Brown was a chief advocate for the environment and environmental preservation. She served on more than 17 Kentucky boards and more than 19 national boards with an emphasis on the environment and development. She received the Oak Leaf Award, which is the highest honor of the Nature Conservancy, along with a 500 acre tract of pristine land in the Kentucky River Palisades named in honor of her vision and generosity. Ms. Brown represented the United States at the United Nations Conference on World Population in Romania in 1974, and again in 1984 in Mexico. A leader on environmental issues, Ms. Brown was an early supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to combat global warming.

t4(Warren County, 1849-1903) A nationally known botanist, Sarah Price discovered numerous rare plants and is credited with classifying much of Kentucky’s flora. Also a talented artist, she reproduced approximately fifteen hundred southern plants in pencil and watercolor.

t7(Nelson County, 1922- ) Sister Michael Leo Mullaney began her life in Kentucky, and the process of becoming a nun, with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in July 1953. In 1965, she earned a Master’s degree in Hospital Administration from St. Louis University and, in 1966, was appointed President of St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington. Sister’s wealth of experience and zest for life led her to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee that assisted in the development of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the 5th largest foundation in the Commonwealth.

t1(Boyle County, 1883-1967) Sophia Kindrick Alcorn, a teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, developed the Tad-Oma method for teaching children who are deaf and/or blind that is used internationally today. This method teaches children how to speak through touching their teacher’s cheek, feeling vocal vibrations.

t3(Barren County, 1920-2012) Lois Howard Gray was one of Kentucky’s first and most successful female entrepreneurs. She was the co-founder with her late husband of one of the country’s highly regarded construction companies, Gray Construction. Gray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and English from Transylvania University. She continued her post-graduate work in fine arts at the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University before earning a Master of Arts degree in Art Education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. During World War II, she served as a lieutenant in WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1943 to 1946. In 1960, Gray and her husband founded the James N. Gray Construction Company, a commercial construction company based in Glasgow. The company grew quickly in its early years, but the untimely death of her husband left the company without its leader. Despite being advised by auditors and business associates that a construction company was not a business for a woman, she decided to continue the family business. She and her sons took the business over and grew it to become one of the top design-build contractors in the nation. Gray was honored as the 2002 National Business Woman Owner of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners. In addition to her successful business career, Gray was a tireless community advocate.

t6(Jessamine County, 1912-1991) Mary Eugenia Wharton valued the importance of field studies in botany and was a pioneer for women in the field. She received her bachelor’s degree in botany and geology at the University of Kentucky and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan. In addition to her research and writing, Wharton’s legacy includes the 278-acre Floracliff Nature Sanctuary where people can learn about the environment and conduct research. She found several rare species of plants, including an unnamed species of dewberry in Montgomery County in 1942 that was named in her honor, Rubus whartoniae.

t5(Green County, 1763-1842) Jane Todd Crawford made medical history when Dr. Ephraim McDowell performed the first known surgery to remove an ovarian tumor from her without anesthesia. She traveled sixty miles by horseback to Danville. Crawford, forty-seven at the time, lived to be seventy-nine years old.

t4(Lincoln County, 1755-1833) Esther Whitley’s life exemplifies Kentucky pioneer women -strong, adventurous, and spirited. Ms. Whitley and her husband built the first brick home in Kentucky complete with the first “American” race track on which horses ran counter-clockwise on an oval track with a clay surface. She was also an accomplished markswoman and her rifle (with engraved initials) is on display at the William Whitley House in Lincoln County.

t6(Madison County, 1911-1996) Born to missionary parents in China, Dr. Louise Gilman Hutchins came to Kentucky in 1939 and dedicated herself to improving maternal and child health. She served as medical director and board president of Berea’s Mountain Maternal Health League for nearly 50 years, and was Berea’s only pediatrician for decades. A mother of four, she brought vital family planning services to thousands of Eastern Kentucky women for the first time.

t5(Hart County, 1871-1941) Sarah Felt Richardson graduated from the Ruth Medical College in Chicago and practiced medicine in hart County, Kentucky for forty-one years. Her outstanding medical career included successfully performing the first recorded surgery for the treatment of breast cancer. During her tenure she was able to bring many new and innovative medical procedures to Hart County.

t4(Jefferson County, 1869-1934) Louisville native Enid Yandell, was a highly respected and renowned sculptor who achieved national prominence at the early age of twenty-one. Her public statuary in Kentucky includes the Hogan Fountain and the Daniel Boone statue both in Louisville’s Cherokee Park.

t5(Henderson County 1879-1947) Kentucky’s most decorated woman veteran of the First World War was born in Henderson and graduated from the Owensboro City Hospital School of Nursing in 1904. Nurse Mary Arvin joined the American Red Cross and was stationed at Base Hospital #5 on June 30, 1918, in Boulogue-sur-mer, France, when German bombs fell in and around the location. Nurse Arvin remained at her post, stead-fast, taking command, and treating wounded soldiers. For her actions and unrelenting presence, she received official recognition from the three major allied nations: France, England, and the United States of America. Nurse Arvin received the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) Medal, the British Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class (Associate) presented by Prince Edward, and a U. S. Army congratulatory letter and “Official Citation” from legendary WWI General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. The citation allowed Nurse Arvin to receive the prestigious Purple Heart Medal, an award then presented for bravery. Nurse Arvin exemplified the best of America’s caring, strength, and loyalty to countrymen.

t5(Fayette County, 1943) Lawyer, teacher, scholar, and activist are all words that describe Carolyn Bratt. Bratt joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky in 1975 and later became the first female faculty member to gain tenure and the full rank of professor. She chaired the Kentucky Commission on Women and served as the first chair of the University of Kentucky’s President’s Commission on Women. She also helped found the Women’s Studies Program at UK. As a recipient of numerous awards for her work in equal rights for women, she has been inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

t4(Mason County, 1928-2002) Widely renowned as one of the greatest jazz band vocalists of all time, Rosemary Clooney’s career spanned over four decades and included hit songs, film roles, and her own radio and television programs. Ms. Clooney spent much of her career in California but her heart was always in Kentucky.

t5(Jefferson County, 1945-2008) Joan Riehm’s distinguished career in communications, public service and civic affairs spanned more than three decades—beginning as a journalist at Louisville’s Courier-Journal and culminating in her serving for 15 years as the first woman deputy mayor of the city of Louisville. Riehm was particularly passionate about women’s issues, education, the environment and the beautification of Louisville; and she recognized that advancing the quality of life for women was crucial to Louisville’s future. She was one of the driving forces behind Benchmark 2000, a community-wide effort to document the status of women and girls in Jefferson County at the millennium, which led to the creation of the nationally acclaimed Women 4 Women organization in Louisville. Riehm co-founded the Leadership Kentucky program and her legacy of mentorship led to the creation of the Joan Riehm Women’s Leadership Fund. She was recognized nationally as an expert on local government reorganization.

t5(Webster County, 1929) In 1977, Nelda Lambert Barton-Collings, at 48 years old became a widow. Mother of five, she was determined to support her family and continue the business started by her husband, she acquired a business partner; returned to school; and became a licensed nursing home administrator. The business grew to encompass numerous nursing homes in eastern Kentucky. READ MORE

t4(Jefferson County, 1793-1858) Mother Catherine Spalding, of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, was one of the founders of that organization and the Nazareth College (the predecessor of Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky) and was also responsible for the establishment of numerous hospitals, schools, orphanages, clinics, and other social service facilities throughout Kentucky. Her ministry touched parts of the globe as far away as India. Thousands of men, women and children benefited from her missionary work. A statue was commissioned in her honor. SEE THE VIDEO CLIP ABOUT MOTHER CATHERINE SPALDING. Read more about the Mother Catherine Statue Unveiling.

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