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Women and their roles in Kentucky History

This summer will begin our celebration of the Bicentennial of Daviess County, Kentucky. This year marks our 200th anniversary of being formed as a new county out of Ohio County, which occurred on June 1st, 1815. There will be a great number of festivities throughout the next year celebrating this momentous occasion in history.

The Daviess County Public Library will play a large role in planning and hosting many of these festivities and events. Starting in June the library will be host to a variety of programs that will help to showcase the life and times of this county and the many different roles that people played throughout history.

One of these programs will be coming up shortly on Saturday, June 13th, 2015 from 2 to 3 p.m. The Women in Kentucky History program will host Jody Ingalls as she weaves the diverse and interesting tales of these four women: Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, Jenny Lind, Lottie Moon, and finally, a Civil War Nurse named Martha. Each of these women had a profound effect on the culture and history during this time and their stories are ones that you won’t want to miss.

According to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, Kentucky, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky and raised in Elizabethtown. At the age of 18, Sarah married a Daniel Johnston who then died of cholera in 1816 leaving Sarah with no money and three children.

Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham Lincoln, knew Sarah from a previous acquaintance and when he moved back to Elizabethtown in 1819, newly widowed from the death of his own wife, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham’s mother, he decided to find Sarah and started courting her. On December 2, 1819, Thomas and Sarah became husband and wife in an old log house in Elizabethtown. After giving their marriage vows, they packed up and headed back to Thomas Lincoln’s home in Indiana, where his two children, Abraham and Sarah were already living.

Upon meeting their new stepmother, Abraham was 10 and Sarah was 12. They lived in Indiana until 1830 and then moved to Illinois. Abraham always thought kindly of his new mother and spoke well of her during his older years. (Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother, Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Museum of Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN)

The next lady to be discussed at the program will be Jenny Lind. Jenny Lind arrived in Elizabethtown on April 5th, 1851. She was known as the Swedish soprano and was on a tour of the United States in 1851 as part of a contract with P.T. Barnum to give 100 concerts for $1,000 dollars each. Jenny Lind was also known as the “Swedish Nightingale” and with the publicity that Barnum provided she became an overnight hit in the states eventually having a multitude of products named after her including songs, gloves, bonnets, chairs, sofas and even pianos.

After giving a concert in Nashville in April 1851 she embarked on a three-day coach ride to Elizabethtown. Once she arrived in Elizabethtown on April 5th, large crowds had gathered around the place she was going to stay. The only problem is that it wasn’t large enough for all to see and hear her sing. She decided instead to go up the street to a place called the Hill’s Hotel and stood on the great stone steps out front to sing to the excited crowd.

Jenny Lind had been an inspiring and lovely figure to behold for the people of Elizabethtown and she was highly regarded in the state of Kentucky. As she left Elizabethtown, it is said that she decided to sit up front with the driver so that she could see the Spring beauty of Muldraugh’s Hill as they rode away on the coach. (Bits and Pieces of Hardin Co. History, Vol. XVIII Vol. 1, Winter 1999, Mary Jo Jones Editor

The third lady that will be discussed for women’s history in Kentucky will be a name that most here in this state and the world know very well. Lottie Moon went from being a mischievous trouble-maker to one of the most recognizable traveling missionaries in the world, saving lives and changing China forever.

Lottie Moon was born Charlotte Digges Moon on December 12, 1840 in Albemarle County, Virginia. She was known to have rebelled against Christianity until she went to college at Albemarle Female Institute, which was the female counterpart to the University of Virginia. In 1861, she was one of the first women in the South to receive a master’s degree.

Lottie became involved in missionary work after her sister, Edmonia Moon was appointed to Tengchow, China in 1872. The following year Lottie came to that part of China too. Lottie ended up serving 39 years as a missionary mostly in China’s Shantung province.

While she was a missionary in China, she repeatedly wrote letters to the United States asking for help in continuing the work in that part of the world. She also challenged Southern Baptists to go to this area as well to become missionaries. By 1888, Southern Baptist women had organized and collected $3,315 to send more workers to China.

Lottie Moon died on a ship in the Japanese harbor of Kobe on December 24, 1912. She was 72 years old. A few years later, the Women’s Missionary Union decided to name the annual Christmas offering for the International Missions that Lottie had started many years before. (

Finally, the last lady to be discussed in the Women’s history program is a Civil War nurse named Martha and she will talk about how Morgan’s Christmas raid of 1862 deeply impacted Elizabethtown, Kentucky and how the life of one soldier would change her own.

Captain John Hunt Morgan of the Kentucky cavalry was the leader of the charge in the Christmas raid of 1862. On December 23, 1862, Morgan crossed into Kentucky with nearly 4,000 men to head to Hardin County and two railroad trestles on Muldraugh Hill north of Elizabethtown. His mission was simply to destroy the supply line through Kentucky to Nashville.

Morgan would go on to lead many additional raids in the state of Kentucky and would eventually die after being shot in the back trying to escape from a Union encampment that had rode into town. His body was thrown over a mule and paraded around town before being dumped into a ditch devoid of almost all clothing.

Some believe that Morgan was murdered after he had surrendered. Others feel that he chose death over being separated forever from his wife, Mattie. This ended one of the greatest love stories of the War Between the States. The marriage had lasted a total of 630 days. Once she learned of his demise she raised a flag of truce and left the area. She was pregnant and grief-stricken and left to return to Augusta, Georgia to stay with relatives. (

Thus ends the story of these four women in the history of Kentucky. To learn more about these famously, provocative women you will need to make sure and attend the program on Saturday, June 13th from 2 to 3 p.m. in the public lounge on the 2nd floor of the Daviess County Public Library.

So You Wanna Be a Librarian?

John Beemer

“Why would you want to be a librarian? Sitting around reading all day—that sounds like the most boring job. Aren’t libraries dying, anyway? And don’t you want a career that pays better?”

I’m sure most library workers have heard these questions dozens of times. I know I have. About midway through a master’s in library science, I’ve almost gotten used to the quizzical looks and smirks that accompany questions like, “What on Earth do the words ‘library’ and ‘science’ have to do with each other? What exactly do you do?—learn about the best books and how to shelve them?” My usual response: “I guess that’s part of it.” Sometimes I’ll give in and wax poetic about metadata, the different types of libraries, and our goal of bridging the gap between patron and information. Usually, this just gets me more strange looks and sometimes an unconvincing, “Oh—okay.”

Not that I blame their confusion. Learning the lingo of the library world can be daunting. Everything occurring behind the scenes at even a small library can seem incomprehensible. The science of running a library as we know it is a relatively new discipline—an evolving, thriving field sure to become more important in our information-saturated world. Working in a public library has given me a chance to examine some of the things I’ve been learning—to test myself—to see how people look for information, day to day, and how I can help them.

Starting as a new staff member of DCPL beginning in September, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was intimidated by a new workplace with new faces and new patrons. I knew it would take time to familiarize myself with all of the unknown. At first, I felt totally inept—like I couldn’t help anyone. (Halfway to my MLS and I mis-alphabetized a set of magazines. Way to go, John.) But I’m gradually falling into the groove of things, and I look forward to going to work. It doesn’t hurt when I’ve yet to encounter an unfriendly face or unhelping hand among my coworkers.

Coming from a small academic library, the most obvious difference I’ve encountered is the number of people I come into contact with daily. Although foot traffic ebbs and flows, once our doors open, patrons of every demographic and background come to us for their various needs. Some people want books or movies or CD’s. Some visit for a special program or for genealogy research. And some just want a comfortable place to sit and spend time. Nothing’s wrong with any of those. And here’s a difference between academic and public libraries I’ve noticed: an academic librarian usually deals only with the students, faculty, and staff of his or her institution; a public librarian should expect to interact with everyone and anyone and, in fact, has a responsibility to serve every person who comes through the door. That’s one of the most attractive and powerful sentiments about the public library’s role—that everyone is worthy of equal service and information access, regardless of status, education, or income (of course, actually following this aspiration is sometimes easier said than done).

Serving the entire public in the reference department comes with its own challenges. I never know what question I’ll be asked or which subject I’ll need to dive into. Library science is truly multidisciplinary—librarians have to be able to interact with the entirety of humanity’s information. In a given day, I’ve been asked for information about pumpkin carving, diabetes, car repair, and crockpot recipes. I don’t have to be an expert on it, but I need to know where and how to find it. This not only keeps me on my toes, but it’s also the main reason I want to be a librarian: I enjoy helping people. I’m not working at a library to make money or sit around reading. I work there to help you find what you need—what you’re looking for. And I think all of my coworkers would say the same.

Sacred Silence: Marijuana, God’s Law, and Kentucky’s Cornbread Mafia

This article was written by James Higdon (The Cornbread Mafia) for The Marginalia Review. It is re-posted with the permission of the site and author.

When I started working on the book that would become The Cornbread Mafia, I never thought that I would be telling a story of God’s law versus Man’s law. But that’s how it turned out. Which was scary stuff, I thought. The supremacy of divine law over secular law was (I assumed) a concept reserved only for religious fundamentalists, so what was I doing with it in a story about large-scale marijuana growers?

I thought I was writing a true-crime story, and at the start I didn’t know much more than the basics: between 1985 and 1989, 70 men from a three-county area in central Kentucky were arrested on 30 farms in 10 states with 200 tons of marijuana in what federal prosecutors said was the “biggest domestic marijuana [syndicate] in American history.” They called them “the Cornbread Mafia.”

Now, having grown up in the middle of that three-county area (Lebanon, Kentucky in Marion County), I had some clue about this Cornbread deal, who some of the men were and what kinds of cars they drove. I went to school with their kids. We were all part of the same Catholic parishes and ended up at the same Catholic wedding receptions. But what did our rural Catholic identity have to do with a giant marijuana cartel?

It didn’t take long into the reporting process to encounter these facts: of the 70 men arrested in Cornbread-related busts, 69 were Catholics and zero agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for a lesser sentence. Those facts, and others like them, left me searching for a cause-and-effect relationship between Catholicism and criminal activity — and I found it in newspaper microfilm and in church archives as they illuminated the parallel histories of the frontier Catholic church and the distilling industry.

The first Catholic church west of the Appalachian mountains was built in 1790 in Holy Cross, Kentucky — ground zero of what would become Cornbread country 200 years later. Five years before the church was built, the land had been settled by a group of Catholic families of English descent led by a man named Basil Hayden, a distiller of whisky.

Hayden’s grandsons would later bottle the old man’s bourbon recipe under the Old Granddad label. By the turn of the 20th Century, Marion County had nine active distilleries employing hundreds of men. And then, Prohibition came to Marion County in 1919 and all those distilleries closed, taking the jobs from hundreds of Catholics (with about a dozen children each) and criminalizing the only thing they knew how to do.

So suddenly, an entire Catholic community descended into lawlessness. To read the newspaper microfilm of The Lebanon Enterprise for the 13 years of Prohibition is to read about comic book-level violence and absurdity: revenuers leaping from the running boards of one moving vehicle onto another, gun fights, car chases, and one record-setting still bust after another.

In this sort of environment, where men felt forced into criminal activity to provide for their children, those children learned quickly that silence was the only weapon they had against the men with guns who were taking their fathers away. When the man asked questions, not answering was the only way to fight back. When everybody did it together, it created a strong bond between them and a strong wall of silence that was almost impossible for outsiders to penetrate.

In the 1950s, I discovered in the newspaper archive that Lebanon still had the reputation for bootlegging, as Marion County was the last “wet county” to the Tennessee line. It came to a head in 1958, when an agent for the Alcoholic Beverage Control was building a new house when someone dynamited it in the middle of the night. Authorities in Frankfort, the state capital, took this attack on their authority personally. They sent 30 state policemen to harass the local liquor merchants while investigating the ABC agent’s house bombing. The state’s public safety commissioner, a young Harvard grad, accused the whole community of “open and commonplace gambling, prostitution and illegal whisky sales.”

The public safety commissioner then traveled to Lebanon with the state’s press pool in tow, claiming to have evidence to make arrests in connection with the ABC agent’s house bombing. But when he exited the courthouse empty-handed, a mob had assembled against the commissioner, shouting things at him in response to the prostitution accusations, like “Where are those girls?” and “Where are those girls!”

There, in the back of this mob scene, the local newspaper editor explained to a big-city reporter what the hell was going on, and that conversation made it into print, which was preserved in the newspaper microfilm where I found it 50 years later: “Gambling and liquor violations are a sin against the state, but prostitution is a sin against God,” the local editor said. “That’s a serious charge.”

He’s saying that the community wasn’t angry about the accusations of drinking and gambling, because they were true — but claiming that prostitution was also going on just went too far. And more importantly, it seems to suggest that this community existed in a moral universe that successfully ignored a number of state and federal laws while still maintaining its moral center by focusing on the authority of the Church instead of the encroaching power of the state, which was hell-bent on trying to control things it couldn’t control.

The children of that mob scene would grow up to become the Cornbread generation: men who seemed to possess an ability to live outside of civil authority without losing their souls in the process. Of course, this is not universally true, and the story of those who successfully walked this line is littered with others’ failure. The body count in my book is about a dozen, and the number of families torn apart by mandatory federal prison sentences and property seizures is too great to count.

But many of the men doing those prison sentences did more time than they would have, if they had only turned on their friends and cooperated with the government. But none did, zero out of 70. Family and community were more important than staying out of prison.

Step by the library on Monday, September 30 at 6:00 PM to hear Higdon speak on The Cornbread Mafia. He will have books on hand to sell and sign after his presentation.

The Derringer – History of Legion Park and James H. Hickman

by Courtney Hatley

Legion Park, the oldest city park in Owensboro (with the exception of Smothers Park which was set aside as public grounds in the 1816 plat of Rossboro), was acquired as a shady picnic area in 1894. At the time, the location of Legion Park was outside the city limits and patrons paid a fare of 5 cents to ride a streetcar the 1 and a half miles to and from the park, which was operated by the Owensboro Railway Company and ran every 20 minutes. James Hardin Hickman (1852-1931), “tall, handsome, ram-rod straight” and Mayor of Owensboro at the time, purchased the land from Camden Riley, Sr. for a total of $4,000.

Hickman was one of the most well-loved and admired Mayors of Owensboro; he was elected five more times and is considered the Father of Owensboro’s parks movement. Hickman’s titles included pharmacist, tobacco merchant, doctor, bank director and manufacturer of Owensboro Wagons. An extremely influential man, he also served as a school board member and city councilman, and successfully argued for the development of paved streets. Hickman regarded nature as something to be cultivated and treasured; in an editorial for the Owensboro Inquirer, Hickman wrote, “He is not a normal man who is not in love with woods and trees and shrubbery and flowers; for they are among God’s best gifts to the world.” Providing the city with beautiful places and parks became an obsession of Hickman’s and it is largely due to his initiative that we have such splendid ones today. Eminently popular among Owensboro’s citizens, Hickman’s wealth was generously used to advance the prosperity of the city. However, Hickman’s fortune was largely dissipated with the Hickman-Ebbert Wagon Company venture and he ultimately committed suicide after a long period of ill-health and despondency.

Originally called Hickman Park, the name was changed in 1923 to American Legion after Hickman encouraged the commissioners to honor the Owensboro men who fought in World War I. The large trees and natural setting, as well as winding walkways, picnic shelters, fish ponds, a bandstand, concession stand and a fountain enhanced the already exceptionally beautiful park. A monkey house was eventually added which featured two monkeys, white rabbits, foxes, coons and an assortment of birds.

“The parks we have are a sacred trust for the benefit alike of the normal, wholesome and merry folk, who may find recreation and relief from life’s toils, but to the sick, the weary and the care-worn, they offer a place where the cooling shadows kiss the tired brow and invite surcease from suffering and give a nature’s failing forces a chance to live again.” – James Hardin Hickman

Mayors of Owensboro, Kentucky by Jerry Long
History Owensboro Parks and Recreation 1815-1990 by Evan Ray Russell
Owensboro Messenger
Owensboro Inquirer

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