Where Are The Women? Florence M. Campbell

I have found another Laurel County woman I believe is worthy of adding to this blog. Her name was Florence M. Campbell, and her link to Laurel County was as Music Director for Sue Bennett Memorial School from 1898 to 1918.

Florence Campbell in 1898. Note the "US" belt buckle she is wearing. It appears to be a military belt buckle.

Florence Campbell in 1898 at Sue Bennett Memorial School. Note the “US” belt buckle she is proudly wearing. It appears to be a military belt buckle.

Born on Aug. 21, 1866 in Liverpool, England, Florence M. Campbell was a daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Passant) Campbell, both of whom were born in Ireland.

Some time after Florence celebrated her 14th birthday, Samuel, Elizabeth, Florence and her four siblings (two brothers and two sisters) immigrated to the United States.

Florence began her teaching career in Suffolk, Virginia, where she was in charge of musical instruction at a college there for seven years. After she came to Sue Bennett, she continued her education during the summer months studying under master musicians in Europe.

Miss Campbell, who never married, was very popular with the students at Sue Bennett. She often held parties for students at her home or at the school. Music recitals by her department were well attended and praised by members of the community.

Indeed, she seemed to be loved by many people in London. According to The Sentinel-Echo, “she endeared herself in the hearts of everyone in London.”

Florence Campbell was also a devout Methodist who took her duties as a Christian very seriously. She not only helped conduct revival services and other worship services in churches within the community, she also regularly visited the prisoners confined in the Laurel County Jail, where she helped conduct worship and prayer services for the inmates.

It was her involvement with the jail that first caught my attention. She wrote a series of impassioned letters to the editor of The Mountain Echo newspaper in 1904 advocating the construction of a new jail due to the deplorable conditions in the existing jail.

In her first letter, Miss Campbell described the conditions inside the jail:

“Very few of the citizens of Laurel county [sic] have ever seen the inside of this jail. As to the sanitary arrangements and condition, I know that the place is unfit for human beings. I wish that more of the people would go and see for themselves the state of that place of confinement. In the visits we make there, to hold religious services, we have opportunities to know the unwholesomeness of the place.”

“Most of the time it is so dark that it is almost impossible to read when we go in there out of the light. It is really a dungeon, and is endangering the health and even lives of those kept there.”

The old Laurel County Jail which Florence M. Campbell advocated replacing in 1904.

The old Laurel County Jail which Florence M. Campbell advocated replacing in 1904.

“The floor is so damp that often the feet are wet after being in there, and it is cold and chilly. Even in the hottest part of the summer we need wraps while in there. That might not be so bad, but when there is such an unwholesome odor, as there always is, it is not at all pleasant. It is unclean, unhealthy, dark, damp and cold.”

Subsequent letters contained graphic illustrations of life in the jail building, including the death of one inmate which she attributed to the unhealthy conditions within the jail.

[Transcripts of these letters in their entirety can be read here.]

A new jail was eventually built, though how much Miss Campbell’s advocacy influenced the decision is unknown. However, both Laurel County historian Russell Dyche and Kentucky historian Dr. Thomas D. Clark found her letter-writing campaign important enough to mention it in their books about Laurel County history.

Florence Campbell left Sue Bennett in 1918 to become the Director of Music at Union College Conservatory in Barbourville, Ky. Sadly, she died from cancer two years later, on Dec. 18, 1920. She was 54 years old.

Florence Campbell is buried in A. R. Dyche Memorial Park beside her beloved mother, Elizabeth, and younger brother, Samuel E. Campbell.

Danna Estridge
Guest Blogger

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