Celebrating Women’s Day: Founding Mothers

May Stone (left) and Katherine Pettit (right), founders of Hindman Settlement School

In celebration of International Women’s Month, the Hindman Settlement School would like to honor the women of Southeast Kentucky that have changed Appalachia through their service. Hindman Settlement School, unlike many organizations in the early 1900s, was founded by two women: Katherine Pettit and May Stone. These two individuals worked in tandem, creating the first Settlement School in the United States 18 years before the 19th amendment gave them and all women the right to vote, outlining the sheer drive of these women to provide educational and social services to a community in need.

May Stone (left) & Elizabeth Watts (middle)

The fact that Stone and Pettit were able to facilitate such momentum for change in the infancy of women’s rights speaks to their power and presence in a place that saw women as nothing more than mothers and homemakers. Stone and Pettit blazed the trail for the acceptance of women in not only the workforce but leadership positions that had been monopolized by men since the conception of the nation. That is why we uphold them today for both founding our establishment and breaking a glass ceiling that still hasn’t been broken by many American businesses today. They became the exception, showing women of Hindman and the surrounding region that women can be able leaders with the capacity to create something that outlives them to become an integral part of changing in the future.

When Katherine Pettit moved on to Pine Mountain Settlement School to duplicate her successes in Hindman, the school was left in the capable hands of May Stone. However, by 1920, the intuition that Stone and Pettit had created grew to serve so many that it became too much for one person to handle. Considering May Stone was well into her mid-50s at this point, she began to think about her succession. Therefore, May Stone operated as the chief director of the school until 1936, leaving the school under the watchful eye of her assistant director, Elizabeth, in her absence. Elizabeth Watts served as acting director in May’s absence, carrying the torch that May had lit some twenty years prior. During this period, Lucy Furman served as the housemother for the boys’ dorm on campus, where she supervised one of the largest groups on campus.

Lucy Furman

Lucy Furman later wrote books detailing her time serving under the leadership of both Stone and Watts. Furman’s fictional works such as, The Quare Women persisted into the present as valuable issues of Appalachian literature that outlined both the struggles and successes experienced in what is considered “the golden years” of the Settlement School. Furman also wrote about her time spent as the surrogate mother to the boys who were educated on the campus of Hindman Settlement School in Mothering on Perilous. In addition to describing her favorite campus activities, Furman explained how she handled a house filled with a dozen young boys in the early years of the Settlement School.

Without these influential female figures in our history, we would not have the same services that make a real impact in this community today. It is because of these women that took it upon themselves to become a part of the Appalachian narrative that we have a future in the improvement and growth of the Appalachian community. Thanks to our founding mothers, we have created an institution that can make Appalachians proud of who they are and give us the power to change the lives of the natives of these mountains.