LOUISVILLE, Ky. — They’ve broken barriers and shattered glass ceilings. From politicians to athletes, physicians and musicians, here are 11 phenomenal women that should have your attention.
1. Martha Layne Collins
Martha Layne Collins served as the commonwealth’s first woman governor from 1983 to 1987.
The Bagdad native was a former teacher before she entered the political arena in 1971, serving on various campaigns.
She would serve as a clerk on the Kentucky Supreme Court before she was elected Lt. Governor in 1979 under former Governor John Y. Brown Jr.
Collins remains the only woman to have been elected as Kentucky governor.
2. Monica Kaufmann Pearson
Monica Kaufman Pearson became the first Black woman to anchor a newscast in the city of Louisville.
The Smoketown-raised journalist joined the airwaves of WHAS-TV in 1973 after she was discovered while working as a bank teller.
After moving to Atlanta two years later, Kaufmann hit it big and became the first woman to anchor the evening news in a major market.
3. Anne Braden
Anne Braden was one of Louisville’s most prominent figures in the fight for social and racial justice. She was one of many white allies of the southern civil rights movement.
Anne and her husband Carl were labeled “traitors to their race” for attempting to buy a home for a Black Korean War veteran and his family in Shively in 1954.
Anne and Carl were tried for sedition and even blacklisted from getting jobs. She would use her strength as a journalist and use “the power of printed word” to help advance civil rights across the American South.
For decades, the Carl Braden Memorial Center in west Louisville has been a community staple for social justice advocates looking to dismantle systemic racism.
"In a sense, the battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and mind of white people in this country. The fight against racism is not something we’re called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved as if our lives depended on it because, in truth, they do.” - Anne Braden
4. Mae Street Kidd
Mae Street Kidd is best known for representing the 41st District in Louisville and working tirelessly for the equal rights of Kentuckians. She worked with fellow legislators to introduce Kentucky’s Fair Housing Act which passed in 1968. Because of that, the Bluegrass State became the first southern state to enact laws of their own.
Rep. Kidd is also responsible for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments in Kentucky in 1976. The amendments, dating back to the Reconstruction Era, abolished slavery, defined citizenship and equal rights and suffrage.
Kidd also served with the Red Cross during World War II.
5. Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is one of the most influential women in country music. The Butcher Hollow, Kentucky native grew up in poverty and later in life it inspired her to write one of the greatest songs of the 20th Century, Coal Miner’s Daughter.
The song talks about how her father and mother made life work in the rural Appalachia town while raising eight kids on a coal miner’s salary. The song also inspired a 1980 film starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones.
Throughout her career, Lynn has released 50 studio albums and 51 top ten hits. She received a Kennedy Center Honor is 2003 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
She also has four Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
Lynn still performs from time to time.
6. Georgia Davis Powers
Georgia Davis Powers was a force in the political community. The Springfield, Kentucky native was the first African American elected to the State Senate in 1967.
She moved to Louisville with her parents as a baby and grew up on Grand Avenue in Louisville’s west end.
Senator Powers believed in the rights for all and she fought tirelessly against discrimination and it led her to draft her first Senate bill which called for fair housing laws in Kentucky. She also supported various legislative efforts that improved the lives of the physically and mentally disabled.
During her 21 years in office, she authored more than 150 bills.
Senator Powers retired in 1988 and had a portion of I-264 in west Louisville renamed the “Georgia Davis Powers Expressway” in 2010.
7. Mary T. Meagher Plant
Mary T. Meagher is a swimming legend. The Louisville native broke records in the 200m and 100m butterfly during the 1981 US Swimming Nationals. She was supposed to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics, but the American delegation led a boycott of the Moscow games.
However, Meagher would get her chance to go on the main stage and show the world what she and the swimming team were about during the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
She won gold in the 100m and 200m butterfly and then earned another gold during the 4x100m butterfly relay.
Meagher also competed in the 1988 games and won bronze in the 200m butterfly.
The Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center in Crescent Hill was named after her.
8. Dr. Grace Marilynn James
In a time when segregation affected the way of life for many African Americans one woman made it clear she would speak up and speak out about health inequality.
Dr. Grace Marilynn James dedicated her life to helping “unwed mothers and poor children” get access to quality heath care.
She broke barriers by becoming the first Black woman on staff at the former Louisville Children’s Hospital and was one of two Black women on staff as faculty at a medical school in the south during the early 1950s.
James often spoke about infant mortality among African Americans. She held a private pediatrics practice and walk-in clinic in the west end.
Her efforts to educate poor residents about health care led her to help establish the West Louisville Health Education Program and lead the Council on Urban Education in the early 1970s.
9. Rep. Nima Kulkarni
Rep. Nima Kulkarni became the first Indian American and immigrant to be elected as state representative.
Kulkarni, who represents District 40, told WHAS11 News in 2021 that she got into politics to “light a fire for change.”
She kept labor, education, health care and immigration, topics that are close to her heart.
Kulkarni and her family moved to Louisville when she was six-years-old and immigration has been the centerpiece of her life.
She created the Indus Law Firm which focuses on immigration and employment law. Years later, Kulkarni founded the New Americans Initiative – a foundation that educates and builds awareness of immigration-related issues.
10. Keturah Herron
The former ACLU policy strategist made history and broke barriers in 2022 after becoming the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the Kentucky House.
Herron represents District 42, which serves a portion of Jefferson County.
They said with their election, they want to work with the people to bring the change they seek in their communities.
Herron also played a key role in getting Breonna’s Law passed and the passage of Senate Bill 4.
11. Minerva Virola
Minerva Virola was the first Latina police officer in the state of Kentucky. She served for 28 years with the Louisville Metro Police Department before retiring in 2012.
During her time with LMPD, Virola helped organize citizen police academies including a Latino Citizens Police Academy that would help the department bridge the gap with Louisville’s Hispanic community.
Virola would also help with the FBI’s community outreach, introducing kids and teens to law enforcement.
She received the 2012 Director’s Community Leadership Award from the FBI.