Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Kate Kimbrough Laughlin, 1857-1944
By Christine Barker, great-granddaughter of Kate Kimbrough Laughlin
Kate Kimbrough Laughlin was born in October 1857 in Rockwood, Tennessee to William Caleb and Rebecca Ellis Kimbrough. Her family was among the original settlers of Virginia in the 1600s, having been traced to Sarah Smith, the daughter of the nephew of Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown settlement's governing council.
The Kimbrough family moved to Texas by covered wagon, but after several years returned to Tennessee, where Kate was educated. She graduated from Martha Washington College in Abington, Virginia, and later returned with her family to Texas, settling on a farm near Dallas. In 1883 she moved to Santa Fe, Territory of New Mexico when she married N.B. Laughlin, a lawyer who was later appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of New Mexico by President Grover Cleveland.
A staunch supporter of women's rights, she participated in efforts to include female suffrage in draft versions of the New Mexico Constitution as it was being written during the territory's application for statehood. Although those suffrage efforts failed, she pursued the cause as a vice-chairman of the group forming the New Mexico branch of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. She helped organize the campaign throughout the state, demanding that the Susan B. Anthony Amendment be included in the federal constitution. Her efforts culminated in rallies in Santa Fe and a famous 1916 challenge to New Mexico Senator Thomas B. Catron who did not support the federal amendment.
Kate Kimbrough Laughlin was a charter member and one-time president of the Santa Fe Women's Club and Public Library Association. The Women's Club was a civic organization primarily dedicated to the welfare of women and children. It successfully lobbied for legislation calling for women to be represented on boards of all state institutions, the establishment of juvenile courts, enactment of community property laws, and improved conditions for women working on farms. She was a founder of the Archaeological Society that later became the Museum Women's Board of the Museum of New Mexico and was active in the founding of the School for American Research.
In a February 15, 1928 letter from Herbert Hoover, acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Kate Kimbrough Laughlin was commended for her leadership as chairman of the New Mexico Better Homes in America committee. The organization was responsible for an educational campaign to improve home building, home ownership, and housing conditions for New Mexico families.
Kate Kimbrough Laughlin played a decisive role in establishing Santa Fe as a cultural and historical center at the beginning of the twentieth century and is credited with helping to create the state welfare department for children.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "New Mexico." Chapter XXX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol.6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922 [LINK].
"Mrs. Laughlin, Old Resident, Dead at 86." Santa Fe New Mexican 12 May 1944
"The Senator and the Ladies." Editorial. Santa Fe New Mexican 21 October 1915
Additional information from Barker Family Archives, in private hands. The archives include personal letters, signed letter from Herbert Hoover, and biographical information written by Laughlin Barker, Kate Kimbrough's grandson.