Politics & Government

In 2018, Kentucky’s Capitol will finally get a life-size statue of a woman.

Move over Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and other guy statues in the Kentucky Capitol. A life-size statue of a woman is on the way in 2018.

Her name is Nettie Depp of Barren County, a pioneer in Kentucky education in the early 1900s.

The bronze statue of Nettie Bayless Courts Depp is now being developed in the Lexington studio of artist Amanda Matthews, a great-great niece of the educator and the one who came up with the idea of a Nettie Depp statue in the Capitol.

It is to stand about 6-feet tall, not including the base. If a flat area under her feet is made of bronze, the sculpture will weigh about 250 to 300 pounds.

The only metal work honoring a woman now in the Kentucky Capitol is a plaque of Thelma Stovall, the first woman elected lieutenant governor of Kentucky from 1975 to 1979.

There are only a few statues dedicated to women in Kentucky and none on any government property, says Leslie Nigels, director of the state Division of Historic Properties in the Finance Cabinet.

“This is long overdue,” she said in a recent interview with Matthews at Nigels’ Frankfort office.

Matthews got her idea for a Nettie Depp statue in September 2014. She was researching gender equity issues for another project when she read in Courier Journal that “the closest thing to a woman honored by a full-scale statue on public property in Kentucky is Carolina, (Civil War) Gen. John Breckinridge Castleman’s horse” in Louisville.

Matthews said she talked to her husband, Brad Connell, a co-owner with her of the Prometheus Foundry in Lexington, about honoring Nettie Depp.

“He was all for it,” she said.

In July of this year, the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission, which oversees state statues, unanimously approved the Depp project.

The commission voted for a contract to put the statue in the Capitol for at least four years with an option to renew for additional years.

No state taxpayers’ dollars are involved in the project, Matthews said. All the funding for it came from private donations.

The Depp statue will be installed in the Capitol on the west side of the building on the first floor where a bust now sits of the late Republican U.S. Sen. John Sherman Cooper from Somerset. The Cooper bust will be moved to the east end of the Capitol.

Matthews said she is not necessarily trying to honor a relative but to recognize a woman who was “a leader in Kentucky.”

A historical marker in Glasgow notes that Nettie Depp, born Nov. 21, 1874, taught school for several years until running on the Democratic ticket for school superintendent in Barren County in 1913. She became the first female public official in the county, seven years before women were allowed to vote.

As superintendent, Depp was instrumental in unifying local schools to create the county’s first four-year high school, which was housed in the former Liberty College in Glasgow.

The merger of United Glasgow Graded and the Barren County High schools increased the number of enrolled students from twenty to more than seventy.

Managing a rural district presented challenges, including impassable roads and frequently flooded areas, which made it difficult to unite other schools in the county. Despite these obstacles, Depp improved and repaired local one-room schools by constructing seven schoolhouses to serve broad geographic areas.

Depp introduced and implemented a uniform curriculum for all schools in the county. Several schools added libraries and others utilized a traveling library service. She also tried to enforce the compulsory school law.

By the end of her four years, she had fined several families for not sending their children to school.

After serving as superintendent, Depp became principal at Cave City School until 1923. That same year, the Republican Party asked Depp to run for re-election as superintendent, but she declined, stating that she would only run in the name of education, not a political party. She completed her career as a teacher in Scottsville from 1923 to 1931.

Depp died of breast cancer in 1932 and was buried at Refuge Cemetery at Eighty-Eight in Barren County.

Bo Matthews, the current superintendent of Barren County Schools, is a great-great nephew of Nettie Depp, as is the actor Johnny Depp.

“I have the honor of looking out my office window and seeing a plaque we have here to honor Aunt Nettie,” said Bo Matthews. “She was truly a lady ahead of her times. I am proud to be in the line of a woman like her.”

His cousin, Amanda Matthews, said she looks forward to the day when school children — girls and boys — can go to the Kentucky Capitol and see a statue that honors a woman’s contribution to the progress of Kentucky.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics

The project

The Artemis Initiative, a public charity organization in Lexington founded by Amanda Matthews in name of a Greek goddess known for “illuminating the darkness,” has raised money for the Nettie Depp statue. Its goal is to create public art in Kentucky that “elevates the status of women, children, minorities, nature and animals.”

More information about the non-profit can be found at www.artemisinitiative.org.

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