SPOTLIGHT: Cora Wilson Stewart, education pioneer

Working all day leaves little time for education. For those struggling in the impoverished areas of Appalachia, literacy was on the back burner. One woman’s vision allowed people to gain the education that they deserved without sacrificing their livelihoods.

Cora Wilson Stewart was born on January 17, 1875 in Farmers, Kentucky, just outside of Morehead. She attended Morehead Normal School (later Morehead State University) and the University of Kentucky. She began her teaching career at twenty years old in Rowan County, where she grew up. It wasn’t long before she gained a reputation as an exceptional teacher and after just six years of working in education was elected Rowan County school superintendent. In 1909, she was re-elected and continued to be recognized for her triumphs in education.

Recognizing that illiteracy was a problem, she decided to do something about it. She founded the Moonlight Schools in 1911 as an experiment to combat illiteracy. Classes were held for adults in the one-room schoolhouses that were filled with learning children by day. The students made their way to the schools on nights where light from the moon would guide them and teachers volunteered their time and talents.

The Moonlight Schools opened on September 5, 1911. Stewart later called this first night “the brightest moonlit night the world has ever seen.”  1200 people, ranging in age from 18 to 86, showed up at the 50 schools on that September night. One of the Moonlight Schools sat for many years on the campus of Morehead State University and has been moved to a more central location near the Morehead Tourism center.

She was also a delegate to the 1920 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, and was nominated for President of the United States. In 1923 Stewart was elected to the executive committee of the National Education Association. Six years later President Herbert Hoover named her to chair the executive committee of the National Advisory Committee on Illiteracy. In 1924, for example,she received Pictorial Review‘s $5,000 achievement prize for her contribution to human welfare, and in 1930 she accepted the Ella Flagg Young Medal for distinguished service in the field of education. Accolades were well-deserved.

Cora Wilson Stewart was a trail-blazing individual. She fought for the right for all people to get the  education that they deserved and was elected first female president of the Kentucky Education Association. Her legacy lives on in the spirit of education.


Spotlight: Kentucky is My Land

Kentucky is my land.
It is a place beneath the wind and sun
In the very heart of America.
It is bounded on the east, north, and west by rivers
And on the south by mountains.
Only one boundary line is not a natural one,
It is a portion of southern boundary
That runs westward from the mountains
Across the delta lowlands to the Mississippi.

Within these natural boundaries is Kentucky,
Shaped like the mouldboard on a hillside turning-plow.
Kentucky is neither southern, northern, eastern, nor western,
It is the core of America.
If these United States could be called a body,
Kentucky can be called its heart.

I didn’t have any choices as to where I was born,
But if I had had my choice,
I would have chosen Kentucky.
And if could have chosen wind to breathe,
I would have chosen Kentucky wind.
With the scent of cedar, pinetree needles,
Green tobacco leaves, pawpaw, persimmon and sassafras.
I would have chosen too,
Wind from the sawbriar and greenbriar blossoms.

If I could have chosen the spot in Kentucky,
I would have chosen W-Hollow,
The place where I was born,
Where four generations of my people have lived,
And where they still live.
Here, too, I have always lived where
The hills form a semicircle barrier against roads
And there is only one way to get out.

This way is to follow the stream.
Here I first saw Kentucky light.
Here I first saw breathed Kentucky air.
And here I grew from childhood to manhood
Before I had been away to see what lay beyond
The rim of hills that closed my world.

I followed the little streams
That flowed over rocks between the high hills to the rivers
And then somewhere into the unknown world.
I hunted the wild game in the hunting seasons
Skillful as an Indian.
And I ran wild over the rock-rimmed hills
Enjoying this land of waters, sunlight,
Tobacco, pine, pawpaw, persimmon, sawbriar, greenbriar, and
I enjoyed the four seasons,
Sections of time my father used to divide his work for the year,
As much as any boy in America ever enjoyed them.

For Kentucky has four distinct seasons.
I learned this in childhood
And I didn’t get from a book.
Each season I learned was approximately three months.
Kentucky wasn’t all summer, all autumn, all winter or spring.
The two seasons that I wanted to be longer and longer
Were the Kentucky spring and autumn.

When winter began to break, snow melted
And ran down the little channels on the high hills.
Spring was in the wind.
I could feel it.
I could taste it.
I could see it.
And it was beautiful to me.
Then came the sawbriar and the greenbriar leaves
And the trailing arbutus on the rock-ribbed hills.

Next came the snowwhite blossoms of percoon in the coves,
Then came the canvas-topped tobacco beds,
White strips of fortune on each high hill slope.
Then came the dogwood and the wild crabapple blossoms,
White sails in the soft honey-colored wind of morning
And red sails of the flowering rose bud,
Stationery fire hanging in the soft honey- colored wind of morning
Of evening against the sunset….
The weeping willow, stream willow, and pussy willow
Loosed their long fronds to finger the bright wind tenderly.
Then came soft avalanches of green beech tops
In the deep hollow that hid the May-apple,
Yellowroot, ginseng, wild sweet williams, babytear and phlox.
When I learned Kentucky springs
Could not go on forever,
I was sick at heart.

For summer followed with work on the high hills.
I plowed the earth on steep slopes
And hoed corn, tobacco, cane, besides my strong mother
With a bright-warn gooseneck hoe.
Summer brought good earthy smells

Of tobacco, cane and corn and ferny loam and growing roots.
Summer brought berries too
That grew wild in the crevice rocks,
On the loamy coves and in the deep valleys.
Here grew the wild blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and
All I had to do was take my bucket and pick the up.

Then came the autumn with hazelnuts ripening on the pasture
Along the cattle paths and sheep trails.
The black walnuts, white walnuts, hickory nuts, beech nuts
Fell from the trees in little heaps.
And the canopy of leaves turned many colors
After the first sharp frost had fallen
And the soft summer wind turned cool and brittle
And the insect sounds of summer became a lost murmur
Like the dwindling streams.
Autumn brought sweet smells of the wild possom grapes.
And the mountain tea berries.
In the blood-red sassafras and persimmon.
Autumn brought the mellow taste of persimmon.
That after frost did not pucker my mouth with summer bitterness.

October paw paws with purple-colored skins,
I found in heaps beneath the trees when I went after cows.
I opened them to find the cornmeal-mush softness,
Yellow-gold in color and better than bananas to taste.

These things are my Kentucky.
They went into the brain, body, flesh, and blood of me.
These things, Kentucky- flavored, grown in her dirt,
Helped build my body strong and shape my brain.
They laid foundations for my future thoughts.
They made me a part of Kentucky.
These are inescapable things,
Childhood to boyhood to manhood.
Even the drab hills of winter were filled with music.
The lonesome streams in the narrow-gauged valleys
Sang poetic songs without words.
And the leafless trees etched on gray winter skies
Were strong and substantial lines of poetry.

When I was compelled to put poems on paper
They wrote themselves for they were ripe
And ready for harvest
As the berries, the persimmons and the paw paws
As the yellow leaves and nuts falling from the trees.
Then I went for the first time into other states
And I knew my Kentucky was different.

As I observed the closeness of the tombstones
In the eastern cemeteries
This gave me a feeling that land was scarce.
I saw the tall smokestacks of industry
Etched against the eastern skies
And cities that were a pillar of fire by night
And the clouds of rolling smoke by day…
I saw New York, a city so large it frightened me,
Cliff dwellings as high as Kentucky mountains,
The streets and avenues were deep gorges
Between high walls of multicolored stone.
And while it interested me
To see how fellow Americans lived,
I longed for Kentucky sunlight, sights and sounds
And for log shacks and the lonesome waters.
I was homesick for the land for the fox
And spring’s tender bud, bloom and leaf,
For white sails of the dogwood and the crabapple
And the flame of redbud in the sunset.
I knew that my Kentucky was different
And something there called me home.
The language too was different
Not that it was softer
But it was more musical with the hard “g”s
Left automatically from the spoken word
And the prefix “a” supplemented…
I knew more than ever before my brain
Had been fashioned by the sights and sounds
And beauties of wildgrowth and life of the hills
That had nurtured my flesh from infancy to full growth

Then I went beyond the hills to see
America’s South of which I had always thought
We were a distinct part.
But I learned we were different from the South
Though our soils grew cane, cotton and tobacco…
We moved faster and we spoke differently.
The West I visited where land
Was level as a floor,
Where the endless field of growing corn
Was a dark cloud that hugged the earth,
Where the single field of growing wheat was endless, endless,
And the clouds always in the distance
Came down and touched the earth.
No matter how fast the train or the car ran,
It never reached the spot where the clouds came down to earth.
The people moved quickly,
They talked with the speed of the western wind.
They were “doers,” not talkers.
I knew this was not the heart of America:
This was the West, the strong man of America.

I visited the North where industry
Is balanced with agriculture
And where man is measured by what he can do.
I did not find the softness of the pawpaw and the persimmon,
The lusty morning smell of green growing tobacco,
The twilight softness of Kentucky spring
But I did find the endless fields of corn and wheat
Where machinery did the work…
Beyond the cornfields and wheatfields
I saw the smokestacks of industry,
Belching fire and smoke toward the sky.
Highways were filled with traffic that shot past me like bullets.
And I found industrial city streets filled
With the fast tempo of humanity…
Then I was as positive as death Kentucky
Was not east, west, south, or north
But it was the heart of America
Pulsing with a little bit of everything.

…The heart of America
A land of even tempo,
A land of mild traditions,
A land that has kept it’s traditions of horse racing,
Ballad, song, story, and folk music.
It has steadfast to its pioneer tradition
Of fighting men, fighting for America
And for the soil of Kentucky,
That is not akin to poetry
But is poetry…
And when I get go beyond the border,
I take with me growth and beauty of the seasons,
The music of the pine and cedar tops,
The wordless songs of snow-melted water
When it pours over the rocks to wake the spring.
I take with me Kentucky embedded in my brain and heart,
In my flesh and bone and blood
Since I am Kentucky
And Kentucky is part of me.

–Jesse Stuart, “Kentucky is my Land”

We love Lexington. It’s true.

Commentary by Natasha Collier

I’ve been a volunteer at the Lexington History Museum since 2007. In that time, I have seen exhibits come and go, thousands pass by the reception desk, and have been involved in some wonderful projects. Preserving Lexington’s history, though extremely fun, is not an easy task, then again, I do not think anyone said it was. I was approached by a community member in August to talk about the museum and about Lexington for the Review Lex series and I was proud that the museum was featured as one of the first stops along the journey. Frankly, I was also very nervous (and you can tell when you listen to me speak) and I was thankful that Jamie Millard, the museum’s President and CEO was in his office so he could provide the intro for the clip.

I love Lexington. I love waking up to a crisp Spring morning in the Bluegrass, driving down Winchester Road and smelling the glorious aroma of roasted peanuts*. Horse farms, Keeneland, the FEI World Equestrian Games, Red Mile: I love the horse industry and its impact on the history of Lexington. I love First Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Lexington. I love it all.

What does this have to do with Lexington’s history? Everything, really. At the end of the day, it is my love for this city that makes what I do at the Lexington History Museum very special. I want to share it with you.

What do YOU love about Lexington?

*By the way, the now Jif plant was formerly Big Top Peanut Butter and was owned by William T. Young. You can see an original can of Big Top peanuts and an unopened jar of Big Top Peanut Butter on display in Athens of the West.

SPOTLIGHT: Kentucky’s Lewis and Clark Connection

Kentucky’s Lewis and Clark Connections
by Natasha Collier

In 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departed from the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville, Kentucky and set out on an expedition that would become a journey of the American Spirit. Over their three year experience, the team charted the course that would lead the way for those who packed up to move west with Manifest Destiny guiding them. One detail of this story often goes unmentioned. Kentucky played a large part in the Lewis and Clark adventure. It is believed that nearly half of the members of the expedition were from Kentucky or had Kentucky connections. The core of the Corps of Discovery, the heart of the Lewis and Clark group, were from the Louisville area. The nine men who made up the group’s nucleus were known as the “Nine Young Men from Kentucky” and laid the foundation for one of the most historic journeys ever taken.

Leader William Clark was born at his family’s homestead in Caroline County, Virginia on August 1, 1770. He was the ninth of ten children and the youngest of six sons. Exploration was in his blood. His oldest brother, General George Rogers Clark was an Indian fighter in several skirmishes including Lord Dunmore’s War and surveyed for the Ohio Company in Kentucky. He became a delegate for Harrodsburg in the Kentucky Colony of Virginia and is credited with the foundation of Louisville. George definitely set the precedent for explorers in the Clark family.

William was educated formally in Virginia and his family moved three miles southeast of Louisville when he was fourteen years old. It was at “Mulberry Hill” where his practical education began. William became skilled in surveying, wilderness living, running a plantation and even cartography. By the time he was twenty-one, he was proficient as a surveyor, frontiersman, planter and soldier. The men in the Clark family were no strangers to war. His five brothers had all fought in the Revolutionary War, with two giving their lives to their country. According to the William Clark biography by the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, he “might have served under his brother George in a 1786 militia expedition against the Wabash River Indians, but it is certain that he served in John Hardin’s 1789 expedition against the White River Indian towns, Charles Scott’s 1791 expedition against the Ouiatanon Indian towns, and assisted with the defense of the settlements against Indian attack.” Regardless, his skills were highly praised and on March 7, 1792, he became a second lieutenant in the infantry of the army.

William Clark’s involvement with Indian affairs would continue with territorial expansion into the Northwest Territory and he was present at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. 1803 would be the year that marked William Clark’s place in history. He was invited to become a member of a group that would map a route to the Pacific Ocean. Meriwether Lewis, who was formerly a subordinate of Clark’s, had become private secretary to Thomas Jefferson and suggested that he be a part of this mission. In July, Clark received a letter that he was called to be a member of the Corps of Discovery. By October, he began recruiting men from the Louisville area to take part in the expedition and met Meriwether Lewis there. On October 26, 1803 Lewis and Clark, who complemented each other very well, set off on the three-year journey. This journey was just another occasion showcasing the spirit that Kentuckians have long-since possessed. The Unbridled Spirit of a journey which that made history.

Spotlight: Raceland

Raceland: The Million Dollar Oval
By: Natasha Collier

Before Keeneland there was Raceland. The fifth racecourse built in Kentucky, it is the namesake of the town in which it was built, known as Chinnville, and formally changed to Raceland in 1926. J.O. “Jack” Keene was the proprietor of the venture and created a lavish design, nicknamed the “Million Dollar Oval” because construction of the course coRaceland Clubhousest around one million dollars and included an astounding 350 acres, 22 stables, a rail spur, and its own jail. The 1.5 mile-long track was circled by a white fence of wood and iron, as well as rambling roses. The bridle paths and the front lawn were paved in red tapestry brick matching the clubhouse, stewards’ stand and judge’s stand.

Raceland made its debut on July 4, 1924 with a first-class boxing match of which 5,000 spectators were in attendance. The first race, titled the “Ashland Handicap,” was held on July 10 and drew a crowd of 15,000. The first “Raceland Derby” ran on July 19, 1924 with 27,000 in attendance and featured Kentucky Derby winner (and race favorite) Black Gold as well as Bobtail, winner of the first Raceland Derby, Post Dispatch and Altawood. Having gained great notoriety, a leading racing forum boasted that it could be “the Saratoga of the middle-west” and toted the amenities of the track and surrounding town.  Three more annual derbies followed in the remaining years of operation, totaling five races at the track.

Financial difficulties forced the closure of the track after its last season in 1928. It was sold and torn down in 1937. The clubhouse still stands along US-23 and a historical marker was put in place on May 26, 2004 to commemorate the track’s 80th anniversary.

Photo courtesy of American Byways by Sherman Cahal

Spotlight: Women in Central Kentucky

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, civic leader and suffragist who was instrumental in Kentucky’s ratifying the 19th Amendment, was born in Lexington on April 20th, 1872. Breckinridge grew up at Ashland, which had been established by her great-grandfather, Henry Clay. She married Desha Breckinridge, publisher of the Lexington Herald, and whose family was the very political Breckinridges of Lexington, and included in its lineage Vice President John C. Breckinridge. She was a champion of many causes including women’s rights and was vice-president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Breckinridge also founded a settlement at Proctor, Kentucky, similar to Chicago’s Hull House, advocated to establish playgrounds and kindergartens, and spoke out against child labor. She lived to see her dream recognized, casting her first and only vote after the ratifaction of the 19th amendment just before she passed away in November 1920.

Linda Neville, Appalachian health crusader whose efforts led to the eradication of blindness-causing trachoma, was born in Lexington on April 23rd, 1873. After visiting Kathrine Petit’s Hindman school, Neville saw that many people were suffering from a form of conjunctivitis called trachoma, which was highly contagious and caused many eye problems including blindness. She encouraged eye specialists to go to Appalachia and provide free care to those in need. She organized, planned, and publicized eye clinics and supplied medical teams with anesthesia and medications. In 1910, Neville founded the Kentucky Society for the Prevention of Blindness, and became the Executive Secretary and solely responsible for its activities. In conjunction with her work, she helped draft laws and lobbied successfully for legislation supporting the cause of blindness. The first such law was the Opthalmia-Trachoma Reporting Law from 1914, which required that all newborn babies with diseased eyes be reported to local boards of health. Her work continued for more than forty years and she passed away June 2, 1961 and is buried in the Lexington Cemetery.