By Paige Nash
March is Women’s History Month. An annual month-long celebration and commemoration of the women, past and present, who have made an everlasting impression on American history.
One of those women have made it her own personal mission to make sure that a fellow history maker’s contributions will remain preserved in the minds of any and everyone who will take the time to listen.
Both women were reared right here in Bienville Parish, specifically in Mt. Lebanon.
Mary Claire Kettler, a graduate of Gibsland High School then Louisiana Tech University, grew up listening to stories of the past.
After pursuing a career in teaching at Georgia Southern University and eventually retiring, Kettler returned to her hometown.
“When I moved back home from a career in Georgia, I realized the older residents that we could go to for information about our area were fading away” said Kettler. “Somehow, I seemed to evolve as the ‘Memory Keeper’. My mother and father talked about life and times in our community- I listened. I was blessed to be able to spend time with the older generations of our community and I loved them.”
Some of Kettler’s favorite stories were about a fellow Mt. Lebanon resident of the past, Lavinia Egan
“All my life Lavinia Egan was this mythical character of Mt. Lebanon. I grew up listening to stories from her nieces and other older ladies of Mt. Lebanon,” said Kettler.
The 2020 election also marked 100 years since the 19th Amendment passed allowing women the right to vote, a major milestone by which Egan played a tremendous and historical role. After traveling and continuing her efforts to further women’s rights, she too returned to Mt. Lebanon and purchased a home.
Kettler said, “Lavinia was only one of several inhabitants of the home. Always one for the flair, Lavinia named it Wayside Cottage when she bought it in the late 1920’s.”
Over the decades the cottage has deteriorated, but through tiring efforts the Mt. Lebanon Historical Society was able to purchase the property a few years ago and have begun restorations.
“Our first efforts were to secure the property. We now have a contractor stabilizing the structure and replacing the windows. Our next phase will be a new roof then on to the inside,” said Kettler. “I just believe historical structures deserve a second or third chance.”
These two women share a connection that goes beyond their origin. One has made history while the other has and will continually fight to preserve it and along that journey has made history herself.
Kettler now serves as Corresponding Secretary of Mt. Lebanon Historical Society. In 2020 she was asked to write an article in honor of Lavinia Egan.
By: Mary Claire Kettler
As the Election of 2020 approaches and millions of women head to the polls, few may pause to reflect on the fact that a mere 100 plus years ago that would have been impossible. Thanks to the efforts of four generations of women suffragettes 8 million women voted for the first time in November 1920. The 19th Amendment giving women the Right to Vote had passed in August 1920.
One of the women who played a part in this momentous occasion was Lavinia Hartwell Egan of Mt. Lebanon, La. Lavinia’s early years and latter years were spent in this tiny village tucked away in north Louisiana, but the years in-between were played out on the national and international stage of life.
Lavinia was born in 1863 and spent her childhood in Mt. Lebanon as the daughter of Dr. James C. Egan and his wife, Susan Rebecca Ardis Egan. When she was 13, the family moved to Shreveport.
By the 1890’s, Lavinia became active in civic affairs. She was President of The Hypatia Club, a literary club that began to concern itself with social issues. Lavinia went on to be the first President of the City Improvement League of Shreveport which addressed public parks, grounds of public buildings, tree planting, parking, cemeteries, libraries, public restrooms and children’s free kindergartens.
Her calling was Journalism. She was a columnist for the Philadelphia Times with syndicated columns throughout the United States. Lavinia’s pen name was Patience Oriel.
In 1903 she was elected to the Board of Lady Managers of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The role of the Board of Lady Managers was to promote sociability which promotes trade and trade promotes wealth. The Board of Lady Managers entertained visitors to the Fair with lavish parties of 600 or more at a time, all with handwritten invitations by Lavinia.
By 1918, Lavinia was living in Washington, D.C. She had an appointment by the Secretary of War to the Office of Director of Military Aeronautics. Lavinia wrote semi-technical articles and news stories for the Air Service Newsletter and publicity for the War Department.
While living in Washington, Lavinia became friends with Alice Paul of the National Woman’s Party. Soon Lavinia was elected a Member of the Governing Board of the National Woman’s Party…considered to be the most radical of all Women’s Suffrage Groups.
After the House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment, Lavinia took to the road to encourage the States to ratify the 19th Amendment. She worked tirelessly to promote and explain the Right-To-Vote.
It must have been extremely disappointing for her home state of Louisiana to reject the 19th Amendment in July of 1920. Louisiana would belatedly ratify the amendment on June 11, 1970, fifty years after the fact.
Tennessee was the 36th State needed for ratification. In August 1920, the 19th Amendment became the law of the land. In November 1920, Republican Warren G. Harding defeated Democrat James M. Cox in a landslide.
Lavinia continued to travel to promote the next phase of the women’s movement, Equal Rights. Her friend, Alice Paul, authored an Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA would be a hot topic well into the 21st Century.
At last, Lavinia returned home to Mt. Lebanon and lived out her days being able to vote for the next 25 years. Lavinia passed away in 1945. Her life spanned The Civil War and both World Wars.
The Mt. Lebanon Historical Society recently acquired her home in Mt. Lebanon, Wayside Cottage. The home was originally built for the President of Mt. Lebanon University, Rev. Jesse Hartwell. Wayside Cottage had sadly fallen into a state of disrepair. The Historical Society hopes to stabilize and save this home with so much historical value.
Anyone wishing to assist in saving this bit of history can send donations to Mt. Lebanon Historical Society, P. O. Box 28, Gibsland, LA 71028. (Contributions are tax deductible) Also, if any club or organization would like a program on the life of this extraordinary woman, please contact Mary Claire Kettler at 318-843-6175.
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