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Women Pioneers are Deserving of Statues

Published May 11th, 2017 on Bowling Green Daily News

Throughout history, women have enjoyed many accomplishments and achievements. One can find thousands of examples of women making huge contributions to their communities, states and the nation.

Bowling Green and surrounding cities are some of the communities where countless women made amazing contributions, which sometimes didn’t get the attention they deserve.

Thankfully, two women from our area who passed away long ago will have their lives memorialized in the form of two life-sized bronze sculptures.

Lexington-based sculptor Amanda Matthews, president of the board and founder of the Artemis Initiative – a nonprofit organization devoted to creating public art to elevate the status of women, children and minorities – is creating a bronze sculpture of the late Nettie Depp, the first woman who ran for public office in Barren County. She was elected as county schools superintendent in 1913, seven years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote.

Matthews is also creating a sculpture of the late Russellville native Alice Dunnigan, who was the first African-American woman to obtain White House press credentials. Dunnigan was the daughter of a sharecropper. She became a teacher, a nationally recognized journalist and civil rights activist.

These two women were pioneers during a time when women weren’t necessarily treated as equal to men.

Their credentials and admirable accomplishments are proof that they are worthy of having sculptures created of them.

Matthews’ idea is to tell a more complete story of history. She says a lot of women and minorities have unfortunately been left out of that complete telling of history.

More must be done to tell the story of women and minorities and we believe what Matthews is doing is a right step in that direction.

Matthews, who is distantly related to Depp, hopes to have the Depp statue placed inside the Capitol in Frankfort. If she’s successful, the statue will be the first of a woman in the Capitol.

With Depp’s accomplishments and being part of such a unique history, we think she is most deserving to have a statue in our state’s Capitol.

Dunnigan is someone else who we believe is deserving of a bronze sculpture in her hometown.

Russellville attorney Gran Clark said it very well of the impending statue of Dunnigan: “Sometimes history is more textbook. To have it in an art form adds another level of emotion and understanding of history. To be able to honor Miss Dunnigan is especially important because she is one of those figures that has been overlooked, didn’t make it to the regular textbook. But her story is an important story that needs to be shared. She was a groundbreaker, being female and African-American, coming from a humble background, excelling in education and then achieving national recognition and significance.”

Dunnigan, who at 14 years old had her own weekly column in an Owensboro newspaper, was a groundbreaker for women and African-Americans at a time when blacks sadly weren’t treated as equal. She is a rich part of Russellville’s history.

After teaching briefly in southcentral Kentucky, she moved to Washington, D.C., and became a reporter for the Associated Negro Press. She became the first African-American woman elected to the Women’s National Press Club. She has been inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.

Dunnigan, who was a champion for civil rights, covered the presidential campaign of Harry S. Truman and was the first black woman to travel with a U.S. president, doing so during Truman’s 1948 Whistle Stop Tour of western states. When she covered the funeral of Sen. Robert Taft, she was not allowed to sit with white journalists and instead had to cover the funeral while seated with the servants.

Thankfully, times changed and when President John F. Kennedy gave his first speech, she was the first reporter to be called on.

That’s telling about the respect Dunnigan commanded.

Later on, Dunnigan was instrumental in helping other blacks report on Congress, the D.C. Police, the Supreme Court and the president.

We’re very excited about these statues and applaud Matthews for taking the initiative to honor these two amazing women in this way.

We look forward to seeing these statues once they are completed.

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