by M. B. Miller
The Kentucky Chautauqua, which had its inception in 1992, seeks to tell Kentucky’s story through actors portraying historical figures who have made a substantial contribution to the state. The “living history” characters do not have to be famous, however, they must have great, important tales to relate to audiences. Most of the Chautauqua’s cast are men, ranging from President Abraham Lincoln to Hall of Fame baseball player Pee Wee Reese. The addition of Alice Lloyd is a welcome one, not only because she is an incredibly significant female pioneer, but she is also one of the only eastern Kentuckians ever to be showcased in these popular performances.
The actress playing Mrs. Lloyd is Jacqueline Hamilton, an instructor at Eastern Kentucky University. Up until a few years ago, Hamilton had never even heard of Alice Lloyd or her college. For Hamilton, it was a stroke of destiny that introduced her to this tiny New England woman who is responsible for educating many of Appalachia’s brightest young people.
“I believe that I was called to be Alice,” said Hamilton. “Some friends of mine were talking about kids who were going to Alice Lloyd College, and I immediately wanted to find out more about that place. I did some research and read Alice’s story on the College’s website. I felt a strong kinship with her. We have so many similarities.”
Most of those similarities extend to their personal lives. Both women started their careers as journalists. They both have shown a deep affection for human-interest stories, the classics, and poetry. Like Mrs. Lloyd, Hamilton was very close to her mother and eventually taught character education in schools. It was the perfect match for the actress, and she found herself wanting to know everything about this reclusive yet captivating woman from a hollow in Pippa Passes, Kentucky.
“The College has been so helpful with this entire process,” Hamilton said. “I visited ALC in May of last year and researched Alice’s life. I talked to people that either knew her or were very familiar with her. From all of that information, I wrote a script, which I presented to the Humanities Council. I was one of only four new character-actors to be selected, and they told me it was in large part due to my enthusiasm to play Alice.”
After visiting the College, Hamilton found that she had all of the tools she needed to craft her performance. She bought an Oliver #9 typewriter — the same kind used by Mrs. Lloyd — and pieced together a costume of round glasses, a bandage for her typing finger, and the white uniform and shoes that most people associate with Alice Lloyd.
“All this lady wore was white,” said Hamilton. “The white signified life, purity, and joy. She was buried in her uniform!”
Mrs. Lloyd’s total dedication to the cause of bringing a quality, low-cost education to the people of the mountains was what ultimately endeared Hamilton’s portrayal to the Humanities Council. Alice Lloyd did not gain the same level of attention and fame of her contemporary Jane Addams, another social reformer most notable for founding Chicago’s Hull House, which was likely due to the fact that Mrs. Lloyd had chosen to move to an isolated region and never left. Had her efforts taken place in the city, Mrs. Lloyd would have undoubtedly been widely known and lauded for her impressive work.
“She is incredibly important to women’s history,” Hamilton attests, “but is unknown.”
Perhaps Hamilton’s choice to resurrect Mrs. Lloyd for today’s generation will change that sad fact. What’s more, it will help to tell an often overlooked aspect of Kentucky’s history — the sacrifices and contributions of women in the mountains and of the progress they have made towards a better future for Appalachian people.
“The story I’ll be telling,” begins Hamilton, “is at the moment when Alice has lost everything. She has lost her health, her husband, and her mother. And due to financial bankruptcy, she believes that she has also lost the school and her students. She’s a broken woman.”
It’s a story reminiscent of the experiences of countless Americans today, but, as Jacqueline Hamilton will show her audience, all is not lost.
“An empty chair on stage will represent June Buchanan, who was Alice’s ‘good right hand’,” Hamilton continued. “Thinking there is no hope, Alice discusses the dire situation with the imaginary June. Then, suddenly, they receive notification that sixteen bags of mail arrive full of donations. The College will be saved.”
The skit, running for 35-45 minutes, will be acted out in schools and other locations throughout the state beginning in August. Following each performance, Hamilton will answer questions from the audience as herself so that she may reflect how far the College has come since that time. Her main wish is that current generations know the stories of Alice Lloyd and their importance to Kentucky history. The revival of Mrs. Lloyd will also introduce the unique education of Alice Lloyd College to people across the state.
“I fell in love with the campus the minute I visited the first time,” she said. “Alice had the right idea about letting kids work and go to school. I very much hope to make more people aware of this great college.”
Find out more about the Kentucky Humanities Council by clicking here.
Please note: The Kentucky Chautauqua has featured women from eastern Kentucky throughout the years from Cora Wilson Stewart (Moonlight Schools) to Mary Breckinridge (Frontier Nursing) to Lily May Ledford (Coon Creek Girls) and Laura Scott (midwife). However, it still stands that Alice Lloyd is one of the only eastern Kentuckians to be depicted in these performances. — M.B. Miller
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