Carrie Belle Kearney (1863-1939)
Carrie Belle Kearney, called Belle, was born on March 6, 1863 in Madison County, Mississippi and grew up on a plantation impoverished by the Civil War. Like many other such women, she became a teacher to support herself, even though she was forced to drop out of school at a young age. A Methodist, she was active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). As WCTU women campaigned to ban alcohol, some could see how much more effective they would be if they had the vote. Kearney was brave enough to defy traditionalism and become active in that movement.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association hired her as a lobbyist and speaker, and while continuing to make her home in Mississippi, she traveled the United States and Europe as a well-respected orator.
Although Kearney theoretically wanted states, not the federal government, to control voting rights, when all women were enfranchised with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, she took advantage of that and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1922. Her lobbying experience in Washington may have made that goal seem plausible -- but it was much too ambitious to expect that she could win a statewide election. At the next opportunity in 1924, Kearney ran and won the more humble goal of election to the state Senate. A Democrat, she represented Madison County and was the second female state senator in the South, following only a North Carolina woman.
Outside of her life in politics, she wrote two novels: A Slaveholder’s Daughter and Conqueror or Conquered? Never marrying, Belle Kearney died at 75 in 1939.
Image credit: University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.