Mary Elliott Flanery (1867-1933)
An eastern Kentucky native, Mary Elliott was born in Carter County on April 22, 1867. After graduating from Barboursville College (later the University of Charleston in West Virginia) and the University of Kentucky, she became a teacher. She married Frank Flanery in 1893 and they had five children. After moving to Pikeville, she became a reporter for the Ashland Daily Independent, where she worked from 1904 to 1926. She kept her job as a journalist after she became the first woman elected to Kentucky's legislature in 1921.
Flannery was in the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, which worked successfully to persuade the majority of the state’s legislators to ratify the 19th Amendment that granted the vote to all American women. It was adopted late in 1920, and in 1921, she became Kentucky’s first female legislator. She was so well known in the Ashland area that her victory was relatively easy, and she was the first female legislator south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
A Democrat, Flanery lived in Catlettsburg, a town just south of the industrial city of Ashland on the Ohio River. Although this was far from the Frankfort capitol, she nonetheless used her job as a reporter to write a weekly political column for the Ashland paper. Entitled "Impressions of Kentucky’s Legislature," it consistently called for social change. She worked for feminist goals, including reform of marriage and divorce laws. Flanery also urged her legislative colleagues to implement the federal Shepard-Towner Maternity Act, a brief-lived program that provided free health care to pregnant women and their children. (Congress repealed it in 1929.)
Mary Flannery unsuccessfully ran for Secretary of State in 1923, but remained active in politics and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1924. After her death in 1933, the Commonwealth of Kentucky commemorated her public service by placing a bronze plaque on seat number forty in the House chamber, where she sat.
Image credit: UK: PA72M22 #30: Mary Elliott Flanery Photographic Collection, University of Kentucky.