John Young Brown (1835 – 1904)

Historical marker #1650 in Hardin County recognizes the political contributions of John Y. Brown, a former U.S. congressman and governor of Kentucky.

Brown was born on June 28, 1835, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He graduated from Centre College in 1855, and practiced law in his hometown. He began his career in politics by serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1859. Re-elected in 1866, the House initially refused to seat him because of his alleged disloyalty during the Civil War. He later served two terms, and, in 1891, he was elected governor of Kentucky.

As governor, Brown signed two major pieces of legislation that impacted the women's suffrage movement. On May 18, 1893, he signed a married women’s property bill, which gave a wife the power to dispose of her estate by will. The law also allowed wives to use and rent their own real estate, free from a husband's control or debts. Although it was a win for the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, this women’s organization had fought for a law that also included amendments to raise the age of consent for females from 12 to 16 and to equalize dower and courtesy rights. Also, despite this new law, wives were still unable to sell or mortgage their real estate without their husband’s consent.

A second piece of legislation, signed by Governor Brown on March 15, 1894, accomplished much of what the initial property bill did not. The Weissinger Act gave wives control over their real and personal property. The Act also recognized a married woman’s separate legal existence, allowed her to sue and be sued as if she were unmarried, and to make any contract subject only to the continuing right of her husband to consent to a sale or mortgage of her real estate. In addition, the Act equalized dower and courtesy, giving surviving spouses a life interest in one-third of their deceased spouse’s real estate as well as the right to one-half of his or her personal property.

On March 19, 1894, Governor Brown signed legislation which updated second-class city charters (e.g. Covington, Newport, Lexington). This legislation gave women in those cities voting rights for school board elections. This right was withheld from women in Louisville, the state’s only first-class city.

Brown died in Henderson, Kentucky, on January 11, 1904, and is buried there.