Women’s History Month: Mary Addams Bayne

Women’s History Month: Mary Addams Bayne

This third and final installment for the Shelby County Public Library’s Women’s History Month series honors Mary Addams Bayne. The article was written by Heather Cecil and is reproduced with the permission of the author.


Mary Addams Bayne

In the days before women gained the right to vote, Mary Addams Bayne created her own voice.  Born in 1856, young Mary was orphaned at a young age.  Her much older brother, the Honorable William Addams took her into his home in Cynthiana, Kentucky, where she remained until her marriage to James Christopher Bayne of Bagdad, KY in 1885.  Mary was a school teacher.  Her husband, assumed to be one of the founding brothers of the Bagdad Roller Mill, was also a prominent farmer and distiller of the popular local spirit, Bayne’s Best Whiskey.

Not to be overshadowed by her husband’s success, Mary began giving lectures and writing short stories.  By 1901, Mary Addams Bayne became the first woman in Shelby County to be named to the School Board of Examiners by the Superintendent of Schools.  The Louisville Courier-Journal called her, “one of the most talented women in Kentucky and foremost in educational circles.”

Mary continued to write, and in September 1907 she released her first novel called, Crestlands:  A Centennial Story of Cane Ridge, at a cost of $1.25 by the Standard Publishing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Crestlands was a work of historical fiction centered around the 1801 Western Great Revival at the Cane Ridge Meeting House in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, complete with political intrigue, religious intolerance, and young love tried and true.  While most critics commended the book as a truly wonderful piece, condescension and the chauvinism of the time did rear its ugly head on occasion.  In a review by Word and Way of Kansas City, Missouri, the editor wrote, “I pronounce ‘Crestlands’ by Mary Addams Bayne a very readable book.  It is neither heavy nor light.  It has not one stupid sentence.”  Indeed, Bayne’s sentences were not stupid.  In fact, her elegant prose was almost like poetry.  In the book, she wrote, “On a fallen log a redbird sang with jubilant note. What cared he for the lament of the leaves? True, he must soon depart from this summer home; but only to wing his way to brighter skies, and then return when mating-time should come again.”

Undeterred, Mary Addams Bayne published her second novel, Bluegrass and Wattle; or The Man From Australia, in 1909.  While Bluegrass and Wattle was not quite as popular as her first book, it was still well-received, and Mary solidified her name as a notable author, and it can still be read today on the Library of Congress website, www.loc.gov.

In 1924, John Wilson Townsend, an authority on Kentucky history and literature at the time, named Mary Addams Bayne as a “contributor to American Literature”, in “Kentucky in American Letters.”

The dedication page of Crestlands reads, “To my husband, J.C. Bayne who in this, as in all else I have attempted, has given loving, loyal, unstinted support and encouragement.”  Both Mary Addams Bayne and her husband James passed away on the same day, March 7, 1939, after a loving marriage of fifty-three years.

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