Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Edmunds Bronaugh, 1885-1973
By Sara Wilson, student, and Dr. Jennifer Walton-Hanley, faculty, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky
Mary Bronaugh was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1885, the only child of William Venable and Mary Edmunds Bronaugh. Bronaugh came from a family of means, and she lived the life of a turn-of-the-century debutante, participating in a number of social clubs and going on long tours abroad. It is unclear what forces led her to enroll at the University of Chicago Law School in 1913. Though women were attending college in larger numbers by the turn-of-the-century, attending law school was still very much a rarity for women and demonstrates Bronaugh's willingness to step beyond prescribed gender roles. Upon completion of her law training with honors in 1915, she passed the bar and became one of Kentucky's first female lawyers.
Her desire to pursue a career went hand-in-hand with a new commitment to women's organizations. In 1912, Bronaugh attended the annual meeting of the Federation of Woman's Clubs at Mammoth Cave. Though the Maysville Public Ledger called her "a leader in the suffrage movement," her role in the Kentucky Equal Rights Association is not easy to discern. The fact that she spent most of the 19-teens moving back and forth between Chicago and Hopkinsville may have prevented her from accepting a sustained role in the organization. Still, she remained active in causes she valued. After the United States entered the Great War in 1917, she organized and became president of a Hopkinsville branch chapter of the Navy League, possibly as a tribute to her father who had been a naval officer. The organization proudly reported that it had packed and shipped bandages and was doing everything possible to serve the nation's soldiers.
By 1920, Bronaugh's suffrage activism had launched her into leadership positions and she was one of the women responsible for the creation of Kentucky's chapter of the League of Women Voters (KLWV) in 1920. Madge Breckinridge, the famed suffragist who died shortly before the League was formed, had personally advocated for Bronaugh to serve as the League's Chairman. The organization complied with Breckinridge's wishes and Bronaugh accepted the position. The League's purpose was to pass legislation "tending to the equalization of the political, economic, and commercial status of the sex."
Throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and into the 1940s, Bronaugh remained an active force for change. She went to Washington, D. C. in 1921 to lobby for passage of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act. In the 1930s, she became a vocal support of a federal Equal Rights Amendment and served as an officer of the Kentucky Federation of Business and Professional Women. When the U.S. entered World War II, she once again demonstrated her patriotism by becoming regent of the Hopkinsville chapter of the D. A. R.
Bronaugh was a dedicated and passionate woman, who committed herself to achieving justice—both in the courtroom and at the ballot box. Yet, despite her commitment to suffrage and her very public career, Bronaugh reportedly spent the later years of her life alone. A history of Christian County described her as "a college trained attorney" who worked to build "her reputation as an intelligent recluse." Yet, despite the quiet end to her rich career of activism, Mary Bronaugh's dedication helped generations of women exercise their right to vote. She died in 1973 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Hopkinsville.
"Mary Edmunds Bronaugh." Find a Grave. Accessed April 1, 2017 at https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=88316206. Accessed April 1, 2017.
"William Venable Bronaugh." Find a Grave. Accessed March 15, 2018 at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/79713862.
"Hopkinsville," Louisville Courier-Journal, February 5, 1910.
"Purely Personal" Hopkinsville Kentuckian, November 28, 1914. Accessed March 15, 2017 at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069395/1912-05-30/ed-1/seq-8/#date1=1912&index=1&rows=20&words=Bronaugh+Mary&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Kentucky&date2=1912&proxtext=Mary+bronaugh&y=17&x=17&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1.
University of Chicago, Law School, Law School Announcements, 1913-1914, 16.
"Ready to Practice," Hopkinsville Kentuckian, January 12, 1915, 1.
"Win Admittance to Illinois Bar," Chicago Daily Tribune, July 20, 1915, 15.
"Purely Personal," Hopkinsville Kentuckian, October 18, 1917, 5. [Law practice in Chicago]
"Mary Edmunds Bronaugh." Accessed July 13, 2017 at http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1035&context=lawschoolannouncements.
"Kentucky League of Women Voters Organized," Maysville Public Ledger, December 16, 1920, 1.
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds., The History of Woman's Suffrage, volume 6 (1922) [LINK].
Hay, Melba Porter. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for the New South. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2009.
"Navy League," Hopkinsville Kentuckian, March 31, 1917, 8.
"Women Voters of this State Hold a Meeting," The Public Ledger, November 29, 1920, 4. Accessed April 10, 2017 at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038022/1920-11-29/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=1920&index=0&rows=20&words=State+STATE+state+VOTERS+voters+Voters+WOMEN+women+Women&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Kentucky&date2=1920&proxtext=Women+voters+of+this+state&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1.
League of Women Voters, "History." Accessed April 1, 2017 at https://lwvky.org/about/.
Drexel, Constance. "Women Await House Action on Babies' Bill," January 3, 1921, 5.
"Kentucky Federation of Women's Clubs to Meet in Hopkinsville," The Nashville Tennessean, May 21, 1922, 4.
"State Business Women Convene," Louisville Courier-Journal, June 11, 1938, 11.
"D. A. R. Chapters Hold Flag Day Luncheon at Idaho Springs," Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, June 16, 1941, 3.
Gilkey, Chris and William T. Turner, Christian County (Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 42.