Laura Clay (1849 – 1941)
Historical Marker #1800 in Madison County recognizes the contributions of Laura Clay as a leader of women's suffrage in Kentucky.
Clay was born near Richmond, Kentucky, on February 9, 1849, at White Hall, the estate of her father, Cassius Marcellus Clay. She was the youngest of six children. Laura's mother, Mary Jane Warfield Clay, came from a wealthy Kentucky family and inherited land and farms. Mary oversaw the family farming operations, including the White Hall estate, during her husband's absence from home while servicing as ambassador to Russia under Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Clay insisted that her daughters be well educated, so Laura attended Sayre Female Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, during the Civil War years. She later attended finishing school in New York.
In 1888, Laura Clay became the first president of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association. She remained president until 1912, the same year the organization was named the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA). Among the organization's most critical contributions to women's rights under Clay's leadership were changes to Kentucky laws to protect married women's property rights and the joint guardianship of children. Prior to these changes, women had no claim to property or wages, and they could not make a will without their husband's consent. Laura witnessed first-hand the potential effect of these laws when her father divorced her mother in 1870. Although Cassius Clay never exercised his right to all claims of Mary Jane's property, nor prevented her from access to her children, he could have done so under Kentucky law. Interestingly, Cassius Clay, an avid anti-slavery reformer, was bitterly opposed to women's suffrage.
It is likely that the divorce of her parents and her mother's potentially tenuous financial situation influenced Laura’s activism. Her sisters were equally involved in the women's suffrage movement in various capacities. Laura was also involved at the national level in the American Woman Suffrage Association, where she associated with other key activists, including Susan B. Anthony. Laura Clay died in 1941 and is buried in the Lexington cemetery.