HER-STORY of East Baton Rouge Parish

In honor of Women's History Month and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library has created this exhibit in order to reflect upon and honor the women of East Baton Rouge Parish who have tirelessly defended the rights of women, children, and marginalized groups in Baton Rouge and the State of Louisiana

Charity Ward Association (1921-08-19) by Women's Enterprise (Baton Rouge, La.)East Baton Rouge Parish Library

The Charity Ward Association and Baton Rouge General

In 1908, a group of community-minded women, led by a Mrs. J.A. Caruthers, came together to form the Charity Ward Association in order to treat and care for the indigent population of Baton Rouge. They rented the third floor of Dr. T.P. Singletary's sanitarium for $2 dollars a month.  Dr. Singletary asked the women of the Charity Ward Association to take over operation of the sanitarium after falling ill. The Charity Ward Association ran the sanitarium as well as the Charity Ward on the third floor in Dr. Singletary's building until 1916 when it became necessary to move the sanitarium to the outskirts of town.

First Baton Rouge General Hospital by unknownEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

The sanitarium was located at the old residence of R. McLeod on the corner of East Boulevard and Government Street. This new operation allowed the women to accommodate more patients (25 beds). In 1916 the Charity Ward Association was informed that in order to stay at the East Boulevard location, they would need to purchase the entire block. So, Mrs. J.A. Caruthers campaigned and solicited $15,000 dollars in 30 days to purchase the necessary land.

Postcard of Baton Rouge General Hospital (1927-10-14) by Ewing, Inc.East Baton Rouge Parish Library

By 1929, the Baton Rouge Sanitarium was officially renamed Baton Rouge General Hospital and moved to 929 Government Street. The new facility could accommodate up to 75 patients. The Hospital was put under control of a 16 member board of trustees that included Mrs. J.A. Caruthers.

Program Cover for the Opening of Baton Rouge General Hospital (1950) by Baton Rouge General Hospital Board of TrusteesEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Baton Rouge General Hospital was moved to it's current location in 1950 in order to meet the demands of a rapid population growth during that time. Mrs. J.A. Caruthers was asked to move into the hospital in 1950 where she was given private living quarters for the remaining years of her life. She continued to serve on the advisory board until she died in 1958.

Inauguration of Governor John Parker (1920-05-17) by unknownEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Woman's Suffrage Party

The Louisiana Woman's Suffrage Movement was spearheaded in New Orleans by two organizations-- the Portia Club and the Era Club.  Although the Portia Club had folded by 1896, the Era Club was thriving particularly after their success with the Drainage, Sewerage and Water Campaign of 1899.  The National American Woman Suffrage Association was looking to bring Southern states into the organization and saw the Era Club as an opportunity to initiate Louisiana.  Upon recognition as the official state organization for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the Era Club extended their membership to women and men state-wide.  

Reymond Building (1929-05-20) by Ewing, Inc.East Baton Rouge Parish Library

The Baton Rouge Equal Suffrage League was established in 1913 and later headquared in the Reymond Building on the corner of Florida and Third Streets.

The Equal Suffrage League was very active in their attempts to garner support for women's right to vote. The group, which consisted of approximately 40 women, regularly contributed a column to The Advocate, participated in local parades, distributed banners and signs for businesses, hosted meetings, suffrage schools, and even the State Convention in 1915.

Mrs. W.S. Holmes Chosen to Lead Woman's Suffrage Party, Times-Picayune (1916-11-26) by Times-PicayuneEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Mrs. W.S. Holmes (a.k.a. Lydia Cooke Wickliffe) was involved in woman's suffrage in the early 1900s working with the Equal Political League in Baton Rouge as the chairwoman of legislative work. In 1916, she was elected to the State Chairwoman position for the Louisiana Woman's Suffrage Party(WSP). Wickliffe remained in the position until the 19th amendment was ratified. Under Wickliffe's leadership, all state clubs and organizations working towards voting rights for women merged under the umbrella of WSP. In 1920, the WSP formally dissolved and formed the League of Women Voters and named Mrs. Wickliffe as the honorary chairwoman.

Lydia Cooke Wickliffe (1949-04-16) by unknownEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Lydia Cooke Wickliffe was born in Louisville, Kentucky on June 18, 1877 to Hugh Innis Brent Cooke and Rachel DeWeese Wilson Cooke. She made her way to Louisiana in 1902 after marrying her distant cousin, Robert Wickliffe, Jr., son of Louisiana Governor, Robert Wickliffe. Robert Wickliffe served as a congressman for the state of Louisiana until 1912 when he was tragically hit by a train in Washington D.C. Upon the death of her husband, Lydia and her daughter returned to Baton Rouge. Wickliffe constructed the first ever apartment homes in the city on the corner of Convention and 4th Streets. She lived there with her daughter for much of her life. Mrs. Wickliffe was very active in the community. She co-founded and participated in many of the clubs in the Baton Rouge area such as the Baton Rouge Music Club and the Philhistoria Club. She was also committed to preservation of historic buildings particularly in New Orleans. Mrs. Wickliffe divorced her husband, W.S. Holmes in 1922 and never remarried. She died in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1958 and is buried in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mildred DuBois (1959-07-04) by The Register MagazineEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Mildred DuBois, first City Councilwoman of Baton Rouge

Mildred DuBois was born in Lake Katrine, NY in 1904. She moved to Baton Rouge in 1931 as an office manager and bookkeeper for Nelson Brothers Contractors and Building Association. DuBois was known as an adventurous, charismatic, and entrepreneurial woman in the Baton Rouge community. A newspaper article reported DuBois received her pilot license after completing training with a well known aviation instructor, E.W. Kleinpeter. She was an avid traveler and horsewomen and owned her own cattle ranch in Texas named Poco Loco. She was also known to host barbecues and garden parties for friends at her home in University Acres subdivision and the Texas ranch.  While working for the Nelson Brothers, DuBois build up her real estate holdings and even helped develop the University Acres subdivision; one of the streets bears her name. In fact, it was the South Baton Rouge neighborhood that got DuBois involved in politics.

Mildred DuBois Campaign Ad (1952-08-30) by Mildred DuBois CampaignEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Before running for City Council, DuBois was involved in a number of civic activities regarding the University Acres neighborhood and the surrounding area. She fought to bring public transportation to the neighborhood, and even attempted to start a bus company called Highland Bus Line, Inc. The venture was refused a charter by the Police Jury so it never really came to fruition.

DuBois was instrumental in forming the 6th Ward Civic Association which took on issues such as drainage, trash pickup, blight, and road access. DuBois also fought for sewage in the University Acres which fell outside of the city plan for sewage at the time.

In 1952, DuBois decided to run for City Council with the promise that she would never accept any money for her campaign from 'either politicians, persons, firms, or corporations.' She was an aggressive proponent for transparent and provident spending in government.

First City Councilwoman, Mildred DuBois (1956) by unknownEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

DuBois was elected to the City Council in 1953. She was the first woman ever elected to the office and served for one term. During her tenure she worked tirelessly to bring a sanitary sewerage system to East Baton Rouge Parish even after her term ended. She served as chairwoman of the Planning Commissions sanitary sewerage study committee which developed the master plan for installation of the new sewerage system. She eventually served as member on the expediting committee which oversaw construction of the system.

Miss DuBois remained in Baton Rouge until her death in 1990.

Pearl George (1987-06) by Guy ReynoldsEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Pearl George, Civil Rights activist and first African American woman Metro Councilwoman

Pearl George was born in October of 1934 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She was the second oldest of her four siblings and was very involved in their care and upbringing.  Her father left when she was just nine years old and her mother worked two jobs to make ends meet.  In 1951, George married her husband, Charles in New Roads, Louisiana.  They had one child, Debra.  Charles died less than a year later of tuberculosis.  Sometime after 1963, George graduated from Totty Business College in Baton Rouge. 

Pearl George Oral History (1983-01-07) by YWCA of Baton RougeEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

George didn't become politically active until the early 1960s when she and other influential civil rights activists staged a sit-in at the East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse in 1962. George and the other activists were attending the trial of Elton B. Cox, a North Carolina civil rights activist, and had sat in the whites only section of the court room. They were asked to move but refused. Upon refusing to move, they were arrested for and charged with contempt of court.

In 1963, George was arrested for multiple activist events. On July 22nd, she attempted to integrate the Parish Courthouse by sitting in the coffee shop. She was arrested for disturbing the peace. On July 23rd of that same year, she and a group of 30 African Americans attempted to enter the City Park swimming pool which at the time was whites only. Upon their arrival, police and FBI agents confronted the group. George, along with four others were arrested on charges of simple battery, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest. George was made to serve a six month sentence and pay a $250 fine for the incident.

George, in conjunction with the local NAACP chapters and other local activists, worked tirelessly to bring racial equality to East Baton Rouge Parish. She protested segregation at the courthouse coffee shop many times, unfair hiring practices of white-owned grocery stores in black neighborhoods, and she worked to improve the public transit system which predominantly served the African American community.

Pearl George, First African American Metro Councilwoman (1977) by unknownEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

George was the first African American woman, and the second woman ever, to be elected to the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council. She served on the council for three terms (1977-1988). Her initial campaign focused on improvement of issues such as healthcare and unemployment which garnered a great deal of community support from a constituency tired of ineffective leaders. She won the race with 60.3% of the vote in 1976.

During her tenure, she championed issues such as infrastructure improvements in poor neighborhoods, anti-poverty programs, improved conditions in the City-Parish jail, and she was instrumental in establishing fair housing practices in City-Parish government. George also founded the Eden Park Community Center which opened in 1979, and the Baton Rouge Food Bank in 1982.

City Council Woman Pearl George (1977-01-19) by Capital City PressEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Controversy continued to follow George throughout her political career and beyond. She was sued for defamation in 1979 by the then Head of Section 8 Housing, Willie Spooner, Jr. but the suit was ultimately dropped. She was accused of mismanaging Food Bank resources in 1988 and consequently lost reelection to the current Mayor-President, Sharon Weston-Broome. The ultimate blow to her reputation came in 1990 when she pled guilty to extorting money from the Plank Road Bingo Palace and for getting family members paying jobs at the same parlor. She was sentenced to two years in prison and began serving her term in the Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas in 1990.

George died of undisclosed causes in 1997. Sadly, she never received recognition for her service to the City-Parish and civil rights work by the Metro Council following her death. A resolution to do so, put forth by Councilwoman Lori Burgess was blocked by Councilman Jim Benham who argued she didn't deserve it due to her convictions.

Title IX Awareness Workshop booklet (1978) by Project on Equal Education RightsEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Eileen Armstrong and Title IX

Per the opening line of the 1972 Education Amendments, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..."  This law guarantees students will not be discriminated against on the basis of sex in the areas of admissions, courses of study, sports, career counseling, scholarships and awards, and extracurricular activities.  The law also extends to employees such as teachers, administrators, janitors and secretaries, providing protections in recruitment and hiring, lay-offs and firings, salaries, promotions, sick leave, vacations, and medical plans.  

Eileen Armstrong (1973-07-13) by R. Duane CookeEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Eileen Armstrong served on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board from 1971 to 1982 and became the Board's first woman president in 1980. Armstrong was a vocal advocate for women and girls while serving on the board. In 1973 she proposed the establishment of a girls' athletics program which included funds to pay women coaches who were originally not paid to do the same work as their men counterparts. Before the establishment of Title IX, East Baton Rouge Parish schools had very few girls' sports teams. In a speech made by Armstrong in 1974, she describes the hurdles a girl might have to go through in order to establish a club team for her school:

"Just imagine, if you can, the boys having to go from teacher to teacher begging someone to coach them for free, and to use their own money to buy gasoline for the trips to their games. And if your imagination will stretch a little further, can you see the boys begging for use of the gym/ or other athletic facilities just once or twice a week so they can get a little practice in before a game. And then, to carry it one step further, after the boys have had a difficult struggle, but have managed to have a team- and a successful season- to have their volunteer coach move- and then have to wait a year or two before they can find another dedicated wonderful teacher to donate his time and money to work with them. Such continuity! Would boys athletic programs survive under such conditions?"

Armstrong received a great deal of push back from other members of the board as well as school principals. The School Board was very slow in making changes to athletic programs and hiring and promotion practices in order to comply with the new law-- some not taking shape until 1976 or later.

That said, by 1975, all but four of the high schools in the Parish had female coaches and all of the female coaches were paid for their time.

Double Standard at Istrouma (1976-11-19) by Gris GrisEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

One high school in particular was blatant in their refusal to establish a girls' athletic program which resulted in negative press towards the school principal and picket outside of the school sponsored by NOW Baton Rouge Chapter and CENTIPEDE. Read the articles and see the image to learn more.

Picket at Istrouma High School (1976-11-12) by Charles GeraldEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Picket at Istrouma (1976-11-13) by Charles GeraldEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Southern University System President, Dolores Spikes (1991) by Southern UniversityEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Dolores Spikes- first female president of a university in the U.S.

Dolores Spikes was born in Baton Rouge in 1936.  She remained in Baton Rouge for the majority of her life where she graduated from Southern University with a degree in mathematics, taught mathematics at Southern University at a remedial level all the way up to graduate level, got a PhD in mathematics from Louisiana State University, and became president of the Southern University system.  

Dolores Spikes Address to the Southern University Student Body (1988) by Carl StewartEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Dolores Spikes has quite the impressive resume. She earned her bachelors in mathematics in 1957 from Southern University and then a masters degree at the University of Illinois. She returned to Louisiana a year after completing her graduate education and began teaching high school mathematics in Mossville, Louisiana. It was during this time that she met and married her husband, and fellow mathematician, Herman Spikes. She went on to teach mathematics at her alma mater, Southern University in 1961. In 1971, she received her PhD in mathematics at Louisiana State University where she was the first black woman to earn the honor. In 1988, she was made the Southern University System President, the first woman to head a university system in the United States. She left Southern University in 1997 after she accepted the president position for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She remained at that university until 2001.

Dr. Spikes and Southern University faced some difficult times during her tenure as University president. Her first years were spent dealing with a budget shortfall which resulted in cutbacks in faculty hiring, increased faculty workloads, and a push for alumni donations. She was also heavily involved in the desegregation settlement between the State and the Federal governments. Dr. Spikes' believed it was important for HBCUs to maintain their black identities because these schools educated the country's most underprivileged students. By integrating, the school's ability to help those students would be greatly diminished.

Dr. Spikes died in 2015.

Sharon Weston Broome Campaign website (2015) by Sharon Weston-Broome CampaignEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Sharon Weston-Broome, first female Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish

Sharon Weston-Broome was elected as Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish in 2017.  She was the first woman to ever be elected to the position in the Parish's history.  

Representative Sharon Weston-Broome (2000) by unknwonEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Born to Northern transplants, Mayor-President Broome was born in Chicago in 1956. She got a degree in communications from University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and then moved with her parents to Baton Rouge after she graduated. Her parents were from Louisiana and Mississippi but had migrated North in the late 1940s. Mayor-President Broome had intended to help her parents settle in Baton Rouge then move back to Chicago but fell in love with the city and its hospitality. She's been living in Baton Rouge ever since.

Sharon Weston (1993-08-05) by Michael HultsEast Baton Rouge Parish Library

Before becoming the first female Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, Sharon Weston-Broome served the public in other elected offices in City-Parish and the State. From 1992 to 2004 she was the State House Representative for District 29. During her tenure, she was elected Speaker Pro Tempore and was the first woman to hold that position in the Government's history. In 2005, she was elected to the State Senate for District 15. She was the first African American to ever be elected to the State of Louisiana Senate. She held the District 15 seat until 2016 when she declared she would run for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish. She was elected as such in 2017. Her term will end in 2021 but she announced in 2020 she will seek re-election.

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Exhibit created by the Special Collections Department of East Baton Rouge Parish Library in honor of Women's History Month and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment.

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