Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 24: PUBLICATIONS RELATED
Katherine Pettit a Memory …by Mary Beech
KATHERINE PETTIT A MEMORY AND AN APPRECIATION
BY MARY BEECH
The following article by Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) staff, Mary Beech, “Katherine Pettit a Memory and an Appreciation,” is found in the Pine Mountain collections as a reprint of the original narrative written for the February 1942 issue of the Lincoln Herald a publication of Lincoln Memorial University at Harrogate, Tennessee. In the article LMU instructor, Miss Beech describes a journey she took with Katherine Pettit, LMU President Stewart McClelland, Mrs. McClelland, and the LMU assistant librarian Miss Fuller. The journey took place on June 30, 1934, but is recalled by Beech in her detailed narrative written in 1942.
LMU has graciously provided a PDF copy of the article at the end of this page.
The Lincoln Memorial University journey by automobile in 1934, described by Beech in her article, appears to have been planned by Lincoln Memorial University (LMU). Katherine Pettit at the invitation of the University then became the planner of the itinerary. With Pettit as their visitor and guide, the plan was to visit the two schools Pettit had been instrumental in founding — Hindman Settlement and Pine Mountain Settlement School and other associated institutions in the area.
In addition to Miss Beech, an instructor at LMU and author of the article, Miss Fuller, the assistant librarian at LMU, prepared for the trip by reading as many books by Lucy Furman (June 7, 1870 – August 24, 1958), as she was able to gather. The rationale was to become familiar with the regional literature and with their guide, Pettit, the Schools she was instrumental in founding, and the Settlement Movement, generally.
In the late 1890’s Lucy Furman, the author that librarian Fuller gathered for reference on the trip, was a classmate of Pettit’s at Sayre Female Institute, an early Lexington, Kentucky school founded in 1854 for women in and near Lexington. Originally named Transylvania Female Institute, the school was renamed in honor of its founder David Austin Sayre in 1885. At the turn of the century, Sayre Institute became an early leader in the suffragist movement. Laura Clay, a student at Sayre and daughter of Kentucky politician, Cassius Marcellus Clay, became a leading Suffragist and a leader for women’s rights in the state and left a dynamic legacy at Sayre, particularly in Katherine Pettit.
Laura Clay set a high bar for women attending Sayre. She was the founder and the first President of the Kentucky Women’s Suffrage Association (later named the Kentucky Equal Rights Association). She was also an officer of the very active Kentucky Women’s Clubs in which Pettit was later a very active member. Further, Clay ran for political office in the Kentucky Senate and was the first woman in the United States to have her name placed in nomination for President of the United States. While Clay did not break through either of these gendered political glass ceilings, she pointed the way for other women. Pettit and Furman were just two of those women who paid close attention to the changing political climate in Kentucky.
When the assistant Librarian, Miss Fuller collected the work of Lucy Furman to prepare for the LMU tour of the mountain settlement schools, she made a wise choice. When Lucy Furman went to Hindman in1896 to join the staff she arrived to take the position as “grounds, gardens and livestock keeper.” It is a remarkable job description for a woman — not unlike the role that Pettit assigned to herself when she arrived at Pine Mountain. Over the course of some twenty years that Furman worked at Hindman she was an agrarian at heart, as was Katherine Pettit. When she authored a number of books while at the School, it is no surprise to find the stories foregrounding the agrarian life of the people. The first of her books published in 1896 was Stories of a Sanctified Town. It is a series of short stories inspired by growing up on a farm in Henderson County, Kentucky first serialized in the magazine Century. Her later books written while at Hindman are woven with her astute eye for rural life and include the following
Mothering on Perilous 1913
Sight to the Blind 1914
The Queer Women 1923
The Glass Window 1925
The Lonesome Road 1927
Both Kathrine Pettit and Lucy Furman were strongly influenced by Laura Clay and the adventurous early women associated with the founding of Hindman including Pettit’s co-founder of Hindman, May Stone. Suffragist Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge and others opened the door for countless women in Eastern Kentucky when they and others initiated summer reading “schools” and then supported the more permanent settlement schools. It was the work of these highly talented and motivated women that opened the way for improved education and industrial training and healthier life-styles for the isolated communities in the Eastern mountains of Kentucky.
When Lucy Furman went to Hindman with the intent to stay only for a brief time, she ended up staying at Hindman for twenty years. Her many books capture the early days of Hindman Settlement and the surrounding area. The LMU Librarian, Miss Fuller chose her literature well, as the Furman books provide a graphic picture of both the Hindman School and more importantly, the surrounding agrarian community and insight into the founding principals and operation of Hindman that are so profoundly tied to place.
While the Furman books provided a rich historical context for the quartet of travelers, it was not the book history that captured the attention of the travelers. It was Pettit and her stories.
The Pettit stories fill the article by Beech and capture the brave spirit and eccentricity of Pettit, as well as her keen eye and ear for a good story that frames a moral tenant. Mary Beech’s account of the trip to Hindman and to Pine Mountain recounts many familiar Pettit stories but also some not so familiar. What is fresh and new and revealing in the Beech tribute to Pettit, is the close reading of the personality of the enigmatic founder of Hindman and Pine Mountain Settlement School.
One of the incidents on the trip is of great interest. In Mary Beech’s account of the journey is a record of Pettit’s behavior as she approached Pine Mountain Settlement. Pettit refused to go to the campus with her guests honoring, she said, her previous resolve to not revisit the School for five years following her resignation. She then retreated to the home of her driver to wait for the return of Miss Fuller, and President and Mrs. McClelland.
Miss Beech’s tribute, written some eight years after the travel with Pettit was, most likely, gleaned from notes or a diary, yet it is remarkably insightful. The brief observation below captures Beech’s intuitive observation of the carefully guarded personality of Pettit. Though “feisty” and “imperious” Pettit manages to charm her fellow travelers. Beech says of her new friend and traveling companion
She really was a “feisty” (quick-tempered) and imperious person. When she gave an order she expected it to be obeyed, — and it usually was. On the other hand, no one could be more sympathetic and charming… I count myself privileged to have met her, if only for a brief time.Mary Beech. Katherine Pettit A Memory and an Appreciation, Lincoln Herald, February 1942, p.13.
This assessment of Katherine Pettit comes as close to defining the personality of Pettit as may be possible. The tale told in this tribute is one of a slowly evolving portrait of this enigmatic and dynamic leader who refused to leave photographic records of herself, who rarely took credit for her work but whose imprint on Eastern Kentucky is still being discovered and is still generating debate and awe.
[Pine Mountain Settlement School gratefully acknowledges the permission granted by Lincoln Memorial University to reproduce this article by Mary Beech. We appreciate the cooperation of Rachel Motes MS-LS, Humanities Librarian & Archivist at LMU for sharing the higher quality LMU article via PDF. 2020/12/12 hw.]