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Kentucky education pioneer is first woman honored with a permanent sculpture in state capitol

A statue of Nettie Depp was unveiled Thursday at the state capitol in Frankfort.
Gov. Andy Beshear Facebook page/screenshot
A statue honoring Kentucky education pioneer Nettie Depp is now in the state capitol.

The state capitol building in Frankfort is now home to its first permanent statue
honoring a woman.

A ceremony was held Thursday afternoon that unveiled a statue of Nettie Depp. The Barren County native was a teacher, public speaker, and education reformerwho advocated for wider access to education and higher pay for teachers.

Depp was also the first woman elected to public office in Barren County when she
became superintendent of the county school system in 1914.

Gov. Andy Beshear noted that was several years before most women earned the right to vote.

"Nettie Depp was a hard-working public official nearly seven years before the ratification of the 19th amendment,” Beshear said. “The historical significance of her election to this leadership role cannot be diminished. She was truly a trailblazer for public education and for the women of Kentucky."

Depp oversaw the creation of Barren County’s first four-year high school during her time as superintendent. She later served as the principal of the Cave City School and Scottsville High School in Allen County.

Speaking at Thursday’s ceremony, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said that had it not been for Depp, she may not have been where she is today.

"My father served in the state legislature, so as a young girl in elementary school, I spent many snow days running through these halls. I never saw a statue in this building that honored someone who looked life me, but my two-year-old daughter Evelyn will never have to say that."

The statue of Depp was created by sculptor Amanda Matthews, a Louisville native and descendant of Depp who works and lives in Lexington. Matthews and her husband, Brad Connell, run a nonprofit group called The Artemis Initiative, which seeks to create and install public art dedicated to subjects who are women, children, members of minority groups, nature, and animals.

That nonprofit provided the funding used to create the statue of Depp.

“Years ago, I began a mission as a public artist to lift up muffled voices of our history, to reveal more faces and tell more stories of those who have been silenced and marginalized,” Matthews said. “Nettie Depp was a stalwart education reformer in Kentucky who used her powerful voice on behalf of public education for all children. She also advocated for teachers, suffrage and public service. My hope is that this sculpture not only honors Depp, but serves as a proxy for other unsung Kentucky heroes who dedicate their lives to their communities in service to others. Today, together, we change the trajectory of 230 years of Kentucky history.”

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.