FRANKFORT, Ky. (3/16/13) – Governor Steve Beshear joined the Kentucky Commission on Women today to honor three distinguished Kentucky women for their illustrious careers and significant contributions to the Commonwealth.
Lois Howard Gray, Thelma Stovall and Mary Eugenia Wharton were inducted posthumously into the “Kentucky Women Remembered” exhibit. As part of the honor, their portraits will be displayed alongside past inductees in the state Capitol.
“These honorees have made a meaningful difference throughout their years of service and have paved the way for the success of Kentucky women, both now and in the future,” Gov. Beshear said. “Jane and I are proud to recognize these individuals for this distinction and hope their influence and achievements will continue to be appreciated and acknowledged for years to come.”
As part of the celebration, Gov. Beshear proclaimed March “Women’s History Month.”
“Kentucky Women Remembered,” overseen by the Kentucky Commission on Women, began in 1978 and consists of portraits depicting outstanding women in Kentucky’s history. The exhibit found a permanent home in the Capitol in 1996 after many years of traveling around the state.
Thousands of visitors to the Capitol view the portraits each year and learn about the heritage and contributions of women in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Women Remembered Committee selects up to three Kentucky women annually to become part of the exhibit. Nominees must have been born in or spent a significant part of their lives in Kentucky and may be living or deceased.
“For years, many contributions women have made in the fabric of Kentucky history have gone unnoticed and unrecorded,” said Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women. “This annual ceremony and recognition of women’s history month is our way of writing some of those women back into history and highlighting how significant their roles have been to the Commonwealth.”
With the three current inductees, the exhibit boasts 68 portraits of outstanding women in Kentucky.
Lois Howard Gray
(Barren County, 1920-2012) Lois Howard Gray was one of Kentucky’s first and most successful female entrepreneurs. She was the co-founder with her late husband of one of the country’s highly regarded construction companies, Gray Construction.
Gray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and English from Transylvania University. She continued her postgraduate work in fine arts at the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University, before earning a Master of Arts degree in art education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.
During World War II, she served as a lieutenant in WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1943 to 1946. In 1960, Gray and her husband founded the James N. Gray Construction Company, a commercial construction company based in Glasgow. The company grew quickly in its early years, but the untimely death of her husband left the company without its leader.
Despite being advised by auditors and business associates that a construction company was not a business for a woman, she decided to continue the family business. She and her sons took over the business and grew it into one of the top design-build contractors in the nation. Gray was honored as the 2002 National Business Woman Owner of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners. In addition to her successful business career, Gray was a tireless community advocate.
(Hart County, 1919-1994) At age 15, Thelma Stovall went to work at the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. in Louisville to help the family’s finances. Her single mother was raising two children during the Great Depression. At Brown & Williamson, Stovall began her active involvement in organized labor and remained a strong friend of the Kentucky labor unions throughout her long career in public service.
Beginning in 1950, she advanced the status of women in Kentucky politics as the first woman to hold elective political office from Jefferson County in the Kentucky House of Representatives. She served three terms in the state House before being elected Kentucky’s secretary of state for three terms: 1956-60, 1964-68 and 1972-75.
She also served as Kentucky state treasurer for two terms: 1960-64 and 1968-72. In 1975, she was elected the first female lieutenant governor in Kentucky. As lieutenant governor, she vetoed the General Assembly’s rescission of its ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She was appointed as a member emeritus of the Kentucky Commission on Women by Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins.
Mary Eugenia Wharton
(Jessamine County, 1912-1991) Mary Eugenia Wharton valued field studies in botany and was a pioneer for women in the field. She received her bachelor’s degree in botany and geology at the University of Kentucky and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan.
After a couple years of brief teaching jobs, she accepted a position at Georgetown College where she taught classes for 30 years and became the head of the biology department. In addition to teaching, Wharton was an avid writer. She searched for plants throughout Kentucky, gathering data that she would later use in her books.
She collaborated with Kentucky wildlife author Roger Barbour on field guides such as “Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky” and “Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky.” The breadth of her interests and her love of the Bluegrass were reflected in other publications such as “Horse World of the Bluegrass” and “Peach Leather and Rebel Grey.” Her last book, “Bluegrass Land and Life,” was also a collaboration with Barbour and is considered to be the result of a lifetime of research on the “Inner Bluegrass region.”
She was one of the original founders of the Land and Nature Trust of the Bluegrass and served on the board of trustees of the Kentucky chapter of the Nature Conservancy. In addition to her research and writing, Wharton’s legacy includes the 278-acre Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in southern Fayette County, where people can learn about the environment and conduct research.
She found several rare species of plants, including an unnamed species of dewberry in Montgomery County in 1942 that was named in her honor – Rubus whartoniae.
Information provided by the office of Gov. Steve Beshear
Photo provided by SurfKY Graphics
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