Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Isabella H. Shepard, 1852-1929

By Gregory J. Middleton, Graduate Student, Northern Kentucky University

Officer for the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA)

Isabella H. Shepard was a noted Kentucky suffrage leader. She was born in Covington, Kentucky in 1852 to parents Ann and Henry Hartwig, Jr. Her father was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. He moved to Kentucky and worked as a riverboat captain. Her mother, Ann Irwin, was born in Virginia. Isabella had two brothers, Spencer and Henry, and one sister, Julia.

Isabella Hartwig married John C. Shepard on December 4, 1872 at the First Presbyterian Church in Covington, Kentucky. They had one daughter, Effie, born in November 1873. Unfortunately for Isabella, the marriage turned out be an unhappy union. John Shepard was accused of being a drunk and abusive. Isabella filed for divorce in November 1876. A resident of Kenton County, Isabella lived at 31 East 12th Street in Covington, Kentucky.

Shepard was one of the earliest and most active members of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. On November 21, 1889, she was listed as chairman for its Committee on Finance. She was also elected as Treasurer as well as an alternate delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention. When KERA sent a "Committee of Six" to Frankfort to influence the state legislature, Shepard was part of this inner circle. She was also one of the Association members who signed an agreement to give lectures for free on behalf of the organization.

Shepard served as head of KERA's Industrial Opportunities for Women department from 1889 to 1894 and Treasurer from 1889 to 1911. On November 11, 1903, Shepard was one of the signers of the Articles of Incorporation for the KERA. She was also listed as Secretary-Treasurer of the Kenton County Equal Rights Association. She was a frequent speaker at suffrage conventions.

As a divorced single mother, Shepard depended on paid employment. She supported herself by working in the auditor's office at the post office. She resigned from this job to take several months off but returned to her position in September 1903.

Beyond her interest in suffrage, Shepard was involved in other ways in her Covington community. She was 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. She led efforts in 1907 to get a health officer for Covington and a pure milk station.

Shepard's work with KERA ended when she moved to Texas in 1912, possibly because she suffered from tuberculosis.

On December 12, 1929 at the age of 78, Isabella Shepard passed away. She died in #x200eSt Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where she was living at the time. She was brought back home to Covington for the funeral and burial. She was laid to rest at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.


"Former Resident Dies," Cincinnati Enquirer, December 14, 1929, 15.

Cincinnati Daily Times, November 16, 1876.

"Williams' Covington and Newport Directory [1890-1891]," Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, accessed November 25, 2018,

Kentucky Equal Rights Association Minutes, 1889-1911,

"Equal Rights Association," Maysville Evening Bulletin, November 18, 1904, Chronicling America, accessed November 25, 2018, Shepard&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1963&proxtext=Isabella Shepard&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1.

"Personal Mention," Washington D. C. Evening Star, September 16, 1903. Chronicling America, accessed November 25, 2018, Shepard&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1963&proxtext=Isabella Shepard&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1.

Kentucky Post, January 23, 1904; April 20, 1909.

Gregory J. Middleton, "Our Rich History: Covington's Isabella H. Shepard Was an Early Supporter of Women's Suffrage," Northern Kentucky Tribune, December 17, 2018,

Laura Clay to Mrs. Shepard, October 7, 1907, Laura Clay Papers, University of Kentucky Special Collections, Lexington, Kentucky, box 7, folder 21.

Laura Clay to Mrs. Roebuck, August 27, 1912, Laura Clay Papers, box 11, folder 5.

I.A. Shepard to Miss Clay, November 27, 1899, Laura Clay Papers, box 6, folder 19.

Kentucky Post, December 13, 1929.

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