In 2020, the nation celebrated the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Constitutional Amendment granting United States women the right to vote. Locally, Brooksville Main Street and The Hernando Sun marked the milestone with the Women Leading the Way Women’s Suffrage Event/Exhibition that took place March 20-21. In addition to honoring the brave suffragettes who put their lives on the line to secure a basic human right, this event honored the visionary women of Hernando County.
Aside from a live reenactment of a suffragette march and rally, the event featured a citywide exhibition honoring those women who made a difference in Hernando; the names, photos, and accomplishments of 43 women posted on boards featured in the halls of participating businesses.
Now, in 2021, the nation celebrates Women’s History Month in March. Sharing this spotlight is an impressive statement of national recognition for Brooksville’s Women Leading the Way program; and a book that captures the essence of WLTW.
“Main Street America has nationally recognized our Brooksville Main Street ‘Women Leading the Way Campaign’ during Women’s History Month,” said Tina Marie, Brooksville Main Street Events & Marketing Coordinator, in a related announcement. “On this International Women’s Day we celebrate the legacy of the trailblazing women who made history in our community.”
Main Street America is a program of the National Main Street Center that revitalizes older and historic commercial districts to build up vibrant neighborhoods and thriving economies. And in the article Community Spotlight: The Women Leading the Way Campaign in Brooksville Main Street, Main Street America cited Women Leading the Way as an example of women who are impacting their commercial district and making their own history in their hometowns.
The organizers of Women Leading the Way, which involved the participation of area organizations that included the Business and Professional Women’s Association of Hernando County, the GFWC Historic Brooksville Woman’s Club, and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, sought to include women–living and deceased–from all professions, backgrounds, races, and eras. They accepted nominations for Hernando County visionary women to be featured in the exhibit.
Among the women featured in the exhibit were Florida’s first woman mayor, Lena Culver Hawkins, the inaugural woman to serve the Hernando State Bank’s Board of Directors, Mary Alice Hale McKethan, Margaret Dreier Robins, who organized the 1st International Congress of Working Women in 1919 and who spent her time and fortune advancing women’s access to safe and fair working conditions globally, Hernando’s first female Registrar and Supervisor of Elections, Ada Cooper Law, Rogers’ Christmas House founder/multiple community award winner Margaret Rogers Ghiotto, community volunteer Julia Jenkins, and Vivian Rivera-Hernandez, Founder of the Hispanic Heritage Festival. Modern luminaries featured include business owner Wevlyn Graves, the first Black president of Brooksville Women’s Club.
And now, the women behind Women Leading the Way join the ranks of Brooksvillians who really made a difference. “National Main Street recognition for the project is the icing on the cake,” said Natalie Kahler, executive director of Brooksville Main Street and a women’s suffrage historian. “I hope it inspires similar campaigns in other communities so we can more fully represent the accomplishments of people in our nation.”
Yet aside from celebrating the nationwide success of Women Leading the Way, Kahler and Brooksville Main Street are expanding on this landmark program. “For Women’s History Month,” said Kahler, “we will be releasing the posters we designed last year into book form.”
Each Women Leading the Way poster will be published for display in this 50-page volume, which will be available for sale for $20 per copy later this month. For information about availability, visit https://www.historicdowntownbrooksville.com/contact.
“Everyone liked the posters last year,” said Kahler. “We had such a diversity of women and accomplishments represented.”
In publishing the book, Kahler seeks to spread awareness of those women that lead the way. “Education is the first step to getting women’s history out there,” she said. “To get a complete picture of our community–even as it encourages people to get involved in that community.”
All Images from Women Leading the Way ProjectHernando County Women, Leading the Way.