By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The only woman profiled in Charles Kellogg’s booklet “Glimpses of London and Her People” was Lucy J. Williams. I was thrilled to find her included since I know a lot about her, having written a fictional account of her interesting and unusual life in my book “Lucy J: The Life and Times of an Early Feminist.”
Kellogg begins his 1895 profile of her this way: “The subject of this sketch, Mrs. L.J. Williams, is well known throughout South-eastern Kentucky as a business woman. Mrs. Williams was born in 1857, and at the age of 24 married Mr. H.J. Williams. She was left a widow with two small children after having been married a little over three years, her husband having died of that dread disease, typhoid fever.”
“Being thus thrown upon her own resources, on December 25, 1884, Mrs. Williams opened a small notion store, with a small stock valued at about $100, but with perseverance, economy and an eye to business she soon built up a good trade and increased the size and quality of her stock, until 1890 when she built a fine frame business house on Main Street which she occupied only about two years when it was burned to the ground in the big fire that visited this place in 1893.”
Kellogg goes on to tell how Lucy recovered from the fire by building a “fine brick building on the lot where the frame building stood . . . this building is one of the finest in London, and is a grand monument to woman’s pluck and energy.” (Not to mention brains and resourcefulness – Lucy had taken out a $4,000 insurance policy on her frame building so was able to rebuild quickly when most of her male counterparts who lost their businesses in the fire had to start from scratch.)
Kellogg continues: “Mrs. Williams carries the largest stock of Millinery, Dry Goods, Notions, etc. of any house in South-eastern Kentucky. She does a wholesale business, and in the Spring and Fall keeps a salesman on the road, visiting all the mountain towns. During the busy season she has a large number of trimmers employed and they are kept busy day and night filling orders.”
Then Kellogg ends his profile by telling of Lucy’s run for Superintendent of Public Schools by saying she “made a hot fight for it” but was defeated, though narrowly.
In 1895, Kellogg could not know that Lucy J. Williams would be the first woman realtor in the region, that she would sell land to many Kentuckians in Deming, New Mexico, would go there to live herself where she invested in oil wells, eventually following her real estate trade to Catalina Island, Calif., where she also ran a boarding house. She died there in 1925 and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. A memorial stone with Lucy’s name was later placed beside her husband’s grave in A.R. Dyche Cemetery by her daughter, but her remains were not moved there.
The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. Visit the historical society’s website at www.laurelcountykyhistoticalsociety.org.