Portraits of honor celebrate LaFayette’s history of distinguished women

Published 8:30 am Saturday, March 4, 2023

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LaFayette Main Street kicked off National Women’s History Month with a Portraits of Honor display in downtown on March 1. 

LMS worked with the city of LaFayette to present the portraits of distinguished women from LaFayette’s history on the windows of an unused building.

The women honored were Mary Florence Woody, Ruth Cotney, Essie Handy, Stella Abernathy Pierce, Nell Davis and Daisy Ingrum Tucker.

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Woody was a nurse from LaFayette. She had a long and varied career in nursing and education. In 1979, she became the founding dean of Auburn University School of Nursing, where she developed a practice-oriented nursing program. Throughout her career, she advocated for the integration of professional associations in nursing.

Cotney was a prominent figure in the LaFayette community. She was made the County Tax Collector by Governor Fob James in 1979 and worked dutifully for the public for 50 years. 

Handy came to LaFayette as an educator in 1925. She collected funds to purchase new land for an African-American cemetery in 1945 and was the first African-American to vote in Chambers County. She met with President Lyndon B. Johnson, attending his inauguration in 1965. 

Pierce was from LaFayette and served as deputy clerk of court from 1953 to 1964. She later became the first woman in Chambers County elected to a public office. She was also elected President of the State Clerks Association, where she served on special task forces to assist the state criminal justice system.

Davis was a LaFayette native who worked at Head Start for 31 years. She was a member of the LaFayette Tulips Club, the NAACP and the Chambers County Democratic club.

Tucker was a teacher of 42 years, particularly at LaFayette High School. She volunteered her free time to her students. After retiring, she taught adult education at East Alabama Services for the Elderly.

The Portraits of Honor project aims to bring the community together to honor the legacies of prominent figures. Main Street Director DeAnna Hand said the project has sparked a camaraderie between the community. 

“I’ve had people from California and Ohio call me just to say thank you for honoring their loved one. So it is just really giving a lot of remembrance and honor to these individuals who are no longer with us,” Hand said. “And it’s meant so much to the town and to their family members. So my hope is that we can continue just to honor these legacies and legends that have been from Lafayette.”

During their visit, the Main Street Alabama Resource Team presented their initial findings and recommendations for short-term improvements. The Portraits of Honor display was inspired by one of the recommendations.

“There’s so many people in LaFayette that have really impacted our town and been instrumental in our culture and who we are as a town, and I just wanted to try to honor as many as I could,” Hand said.

The LaFayette Main Street team will update their Portraits of Honor each month, honoring different members of the community. In April, they will display law enforcement figures. In May, they will honor educators in time for graduation. 

LaFayette Main Street encourages the community to donate to help support the project continuance and others like it in the future.

Citizens can submit nominations for display by sending an email with a portrait and explanation of the individual’s importance to the community to dhand14@gmail.com.

“It’s brought so much joy to my heart, hearing from the family members, and people of the town and learning more on the history of what individuals have done for LaFayette,” Hand said. “I’m really kind of giddy about it because I just love it so much. I can’t wait to hear from people the stories that they tell me,” Hand said.