Lelia Calhoun Leidenger

Born: April 27, 1867

Died: July 31, 1946

After decades of discussion, marches, and civil disobedience, the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920. Two days later the Louisville Women's City Club announced the endorsement of the first woman in Louisville to run for public office. They endorsed Lelia Calhoun Leidenger for a position on the Board of Education. Their statement found her "unusually well-qualified for the position" citing her work in education as well as her demonstrated "ability as teacher, writer, executive and woman of business."(Bulletin, August 1920) Leidenger ran on a platform of improving efficiency in schools and providing equal pay to men and women teachers who performed equal work. ("Mrs. Lelia" 1940)

Despite public opposition to a woman taking a seat on the Board of Education, with the help of the new women voters, the city elected Leidenger in November as the newest member of the Board and the first woman in Louisville to be elected to public office. (Bulletin, Nov. 1920) She defeated her opponent by 6,702 votes in a decisive victory.("Dr. Bloom" 1921)

Born in Davies County, Lelia Calhoun graduated from Kentucky State College (now University of Kentucky) and worked at Miami College in Oxford, Ohio, and in the school system of Tarrytown, New York, before returning to Kentucky. ("City" 1960) In 1908 she bought the Kentucky Home School for Girls at 1320 S. 4th Street, Louisville, Kentucky. She served as the school's principal for two years. ("First" 1946)

After taking her post on the Board of Education in 1921, Lelia Calhoun Leidenger served intermittently from 1921 through 1932. In 1923 she was elected as the president of the Board, the first woman to hold the position. Her acceptance speech illustrates why the Board chose her for this honor:

"... Two years ago when I was elected to membership on the Board of Education I made the promise that I would listen, learn, and try to study the public school system to the best of my ability and to become acquainted with my duties as a member of the Board... As a member of the board I have made a constant study of the problems and policies that have been before us for consideration and action... I have taken opportunities to visit nine-tenths of the school rooms of Louisville... One must see the schools at work in order to appreciate fully not only their power and influence, but their needs.

"I have also felt obligated to take an active part in the work of the Parent-Teacher Association."("Woman Heads" 1923)

Her visits throughout the system and her work with the PTA led to her most notable contribution to education. While visiting the attendance department of the Board of Education she discovered that dozens of students were coming to the department to request permits allowing them to quit school and go to work due to economic hardship. She visited with the national officers of the Parent Teacher Association and found that the problem affected thousands of children who were unable to remain in school because of financial issues so she presented a plan to address the issue. The national PTA put her plan into action throughout the country. In Louisville, her plan was called the Student Loan Fund. Students in need were provided "loans" that would help keep the family financially stable. The students were asked to repay the loans, if and when they were able. The PTA provided the money without city assistance through donations by local associations and the sale of pencils. During its first six years, the plan helped over 200 students stay in school.("Fighting" 1927)


"Bulletin of the Louisville Women's City Club." In Louisville Women's City Club Records, 1917-1985, August 20, 1920.
"Bulletin of the Louisville Women's City Club." In Louisville Women's City Club Records, 1917-1985, November 20, 1920.
"City Schools' 1921 Board Went Co-Ed." Courier - Journal, August 27, 1960.
"Dr. Bloom Heads Education Board." Courier - Journal January 5, 1921.
"Fighting Poverty and Ignorance." Courier - Journal, December 11, 1927.
"First Woman on Board of Education Dies at 79." Courier - Journal, August 1, 1946, 1.
"School Board to Have Woman." Courier - Journal, November 3, 1920.
"Woman Heads School Board of Louisville." Courier - Journal, January 3, 1923, 1.
Dictionary of prominent women of Louisville and Kentucky. Louisville, Ky.: Kentucky Work Projects Administration, 1940.