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Our Rich History: Covington’s Isabella H. Shepard was an early supporter of women’s suffrage

By Gregory J. Middleton
Special to NKyTribune

The women’s suffrage movement required many supporters and a lot of effort to keep moving in the right direction. While some suffragettes, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were names that have found their place in history, many have faded into obscurity.

Isabella H. Shepard was a suffragette forgotten by history. She was born in Kentucky in November 1856 to Ann and Henry Hartwig Jr. Her father, H.H. Hartwig, was born on April 23, 1821, in Copenhagen. He immigrated to the United States, moved to Kentucky, and worked as a riverboat captain. Her mother, Ann Irwin, was born in Virginia on November 24, 1824. Isabella had two brothers, Spencer and Henry, and one sister, Julia.

Hartwig family gravestone, Highland Cemetery

Isabella Hartwig married John C. Shepard on December 4, 1872 at the First Presbyterian Church of Covington. Her father and J. Richardson served as witnesses. She and John had one daughter, Effie, born in November 1872. Unfortunately for Isabella and little Effie, the marriage turned out to be an unhappy union. John Shepard was accused of being a drunk and abusive. Isabella filed for divorce in November 1876.

As of the early 1890s, Isabella lived at 31 East 12th Street in Covington. On November 21, 1889, she was listed as chairman for the Committee on Finance for KERA (Kentucky Equal Rights Association). She was also elected as Treasurer, as well as an alternate delegate for the National American Suffrage Association (Minutes of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, November 19th, 20th, and 21st,1889). Isabella was appointed secretary pro tem on November 7, 1892. She was also one of the Association members who signed an agreement to give free lectures on behalf of the organization.

In December 1898, Isabella was elected treasurer of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. The goals of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association included working for “full school suffrage for women, equal co-guardianship of father and mother of minor children, increasing the ‘age of consent’ to 18 years, a constitutional amendment giving full suffrage to women,” and the continuation of a lecture bureau (The Evening Bulletin, Maysville, Ky., December 5, 1898).

On November 11, 1903, Isabella was one of the signers of the Articles of Incorporation for the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. She was also listed as Secretary-Treasurer of the Kenton County E.R.A. under ‘Officers of Local Associations’ (Minutes of the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association).

In February 1904, Isabella was a speaker at the 15th annual convention of the Equal Rights Association in Lexington, Ky. On November 19, 1904, she was reelected as an officer for the state Equal Rights Association for the following year.

Isabella supported herself by working in the auditor’s office at the post office. She resigned from this job to take some time off but returned to her job in September 1903 (Evening Star, Washington, D.C, Sept.16, 1903).

Beyond her work for the women’s suffrage movement, Isabella found other ways to stay connected with the community. It had been determined that the Board of Library Trustees had been illegally elected. Once this became known, a new Board was formed, and Isabella was appointed to a four-year term. Isabella was also elected as president of the Covington Arts Club. She held this role at different times, stepping down in 1904 and taking the role of secretary, and being reelected again as president in 1909.

On December 12, 1929, at the age of 78, Isabella Shepard passed away.

She died in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where she was living at the time. She was brought back home to Covington for services and burial. The funeral was held at Allison and Rose Funeral Home. Isabella was laid to rest at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.

Gregory J. Middleton is currently working towards his M.A. in Public History at Northern Kentucky University.

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One Comment

  1. Jeriah Knox says:

    Isaiah 3:12 (KJV) As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.

    How would the nation be different today if only men were allowed to vote?

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