December 12, 2013

Traces of Laurel: Politics as usual

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In August of 1881 Emily Smith was elected Circuit Court Clerk of Laurel County to succeed her deceased husband, W. E. Smith.  When I read this in Dyche’s history I cheered, though I didn’t understand how a woman could be elected to office when she didn’t even have the right to vote.  And then as I read further I saw that her election came with strings attached:  she would not be allowed to serve unless she agreed to appoint her brother, Achilles B. Brown as her deputy.  This was obviously a special election with special rules.

In a booklet titled “Glimpses of London and Her People” printed by the Mountain Echo in 1895 and edited by Charles W. Kellogg, the information on Mrs. Smith’s term in office is dropped into a long and flowery piece about Achilles B. Brown who went on to succeed his sister by appointment of Judge H. F. Finley upon her resignation in 1885.  Why she resigned is not mentioned.  She probably got tired of doing all the work and getting none of the glory.

At any rate, her brother was re-elected to the office for several more terms and was highly lauded by Kellogg: “To say that Mr. Brown has made one of the best Circuit Clerks Laurel county has ever had, would be but a mild way of expressing his efficiency.” You’d think he could have spared a few words of praise for Emily who, after all, did serve for four years.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be using Kellogg’s booklet to introduce today’s readers to some of Laurel County’s prominent men (and one more woman) from the past.              “Glimpses of London and Her People” is to be treasured for the historical information it contains, even if it is biased in favor of men.  The original booklet has wonderful pictures of people and old buildings with accompanying text, too, but they can’t be reproduced here.

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