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Bronze statue of Nettie Depp, first elected female public official in Kentucky, dedicated at state Capitol

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The first statue of a woman to grace the state Capitol was unveiled this week at a ceremony honoring Nettie Depp, the first elected female public official in Kentucky.

“Nettie Depp was a pioneer in the field of public education in Kentucky, serving as an elected school superintendent in Barren County, years before women were given the right to vote,” said Gov. Andy Beshear during the ceremony. “She is a distinguished Kentucky public figure, and we are proud to honor her with the first monument of a Kentucky woman installed in the statehouse.”

The statue of Nettie Depp was unveiled at the state Capitol. She was the first female to be elected to public office. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

First lady Britainy Beshear said, “As the mother of two young public-school students, I am mindful that who and what we choose to recognize and honor can influence the perspective of our children. I’m so honored to participate in this historic unveiling of a monument to a female Kentucky educator. And while this statue honors Nettie Depp and all that she stood for, and accomplished, it also marks a small step in honoring the contributions of women throughout Kentucky’s history.”

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a teacher, coach and school administrator whose office is just a few steps from the statue, noted, “As a young girl, I would often come to Frankfort with my father to visit the Capitol and, even at a young age, I was struck by the absence of women among those who were chosen to be honored with a statue. My young daughter and others like her will not remember a time that the Capitol did not include a permanent monument honoring a Kentucky woman.  And as a teacher myself, I also think it’s serendipitous that her dedication comes just as we prepare to celebrate American Education Week.”

Born in Barren County in 1874, Depp earned her degree in education at the western Kentucky State Normal School, now known as Western Kentucky University in 1908.

Throughout her professional career as an educator, Depp supported fair pay for schoolteachers and was a tireless advocate for public education.

In 1914, she took the helm as superintendent of the Barren County Schools, becoming the first elected female public official in the county, six years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, which gave women the right to vote.

She later served as principal of the Cave City School until 1923. While serving as principal of Scottsville High School in Allen County, her career in public education was cut short due to illness in 1931. Depp died of breast cancer in 1932 at the age of 57.

The nearly 7-foot bronze statue of Depp now stands in the vestibule of the West entrance to the Capitol. It is adjacent to the hallway that displays the more than 60 portraits that comprise the Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit, which was installed in the West Wing of the Capitol in 1996.

Until now, the only other permanently installed marker in the Capitol honoring a woman is a plaque featuring the likeness of the late Thelma Stovall, who in 1975 was the first woman elected lieutenant governor of Kentucky.

The Nettie Depp project began in 2014.

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