Leadership Cleburne County hears of role models

Bill Wilson, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·6 min read

Mar. 16—HEFLIN — Leadership Cleburne county — a mix of elected officials, business owners and other community leaders — were schooled in the history of women in Alabama politics Monday morning at the Heflin recreation center.

State Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg, told the dozen or so leadership class members about women lawmakers' achievements over the years and how their perseverance helped shape her and the state.

Shaver said the very first woman to be elected to the Alabama legislature was Hattie Hooker Wilkins, who was elected in 1923 and served only one term. Wilkins fought in the women's suffrage movement and her platform was education and health care reform.

Sibyl Murphree Pool

Shaver said that Sibyl Murphree Pool had the distinction of having the longest political career of any other woman in state history.

"And yet there are no highways named after her, no buildings named after her, nothing is named after Sibyl Murphree Pool," Shaver said.

Shaver said Pool was elected to serve a two-year vacancy in the Alabama House of Representatives and won that seat outright in 1938 and 1942. She was the second woman to serve in the state legislature.

Pool was appointed as Secretary of State in 1944 and later ran for the office, becoming the first woman to be elected to a statewide office, in which she served six years. Later Pool ran for the public service commission and served for 16 years.

Nina Miglionico

In 1936 Nina Miglionico graduated from Alabama with a law degree at the age of 22, according to Shaver.

"After she received her law degree she was going around to law firms to try and get a job, and they said 'well if you can type we'll hire you as a secretary.' She couldn't type so she opened her own law firm," said Shaver.

Even Miglionico's mother tried to tell her that her job was not becoming of a lady according to Shaver.

"She was representing clients and her mother was really upset with her, she would have to go to jails to meet with clients," said Shaver.

"Her mother would say, 'Nina, ladies don't go into jails and prisons,' and Nina said, 'I'm not a lady, I'm a lawyer,'" said Shaver.

Miglionico ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature but did not give up in her quest for public service.

"You should never underestimate a determined woman, let me just tell you," said Shaver.

In 1963 Miglionico served 23 years on the Birmingham City Council and went on to be the first woman president of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

"She practiced law in Alabama late into her 90s and is the longest serving female attorney in the state of Alabama and she's my aunt," Shaver said.

A statue of her is in Linn Park in Birmingham, said Shaver.

"She spent her lifetime fighting for women's issues, civil rights issues, rights for African Americans to serve on juries, also to improve the parole and prison conditions, child labor conditions, to revise probate laws to give women the same rights as men, fought to end the poll tax and to support the Equal Pay Act of 1964," said Shaver.

Shaver said when she ran for Birmingham City Council a bomb was placed at her home, and later when Miglionico ran for U.S. Congress there was a cross burning in her yard.

"That did not stop her," said Shaver.

Lurleen B. Wallace

Shaver said that Lurleen B. Wallace, wife of segregationist George Wallace, ran for governor as a "surrogate" for George Wallace as the Alabama constitution stated that governor could not serve two consecutive terms.

"What he did was to run Lurleen, and everybody just kinda knew that, because she said, 'his office would be across the hall,' and things like that,"said Shaver.

She ran for governor in 1966 and won becoming the first woman governor.

"She only served for 15 months before she died in office," Shaver said.

Shaver said that when Lurleen was delivering her last child the doctor noticed that she had cancer, a tumor. The doctor told George.

"George said, 'she's not to be told,' so she did not know she had cancer back then, not until years later when she was at the doctor's office and having trouble because it had progressed and grown so much that she found out she had cancer," said Shaver.

"So when she was running for office and serving she was being treated for cancer but George didn't tell her. He was running her for governor and she died at age 41," said Shaver.

Retha Deal Wynot

Wynot, one of Shaver's high school teachers in Gadsden, was the fourth woman to serve in the Alabama legislature, where she served one term before running for the position of state auditor.

"Her campaign slogan was, 'Why not Wynot.'" Voters apparently had their reasons, as she lost the election

Shaver said that Wynot taught her to have an opinion based on facts and be able to defend it.

"She did have a profound impact on my life," said Shaver.

A photo adorns the walls of the state house with the legislators from that era with Wynot's photo in a "sea of men."

"Before I walk into the house chamber every single time I look to the left and I give Ms. Wynot a nod and try to make her proud," said Shaver.

Kay Ivey

Shaver said that Alabama's current governor, Kay Ivey, is the second woman to hold the top office in the state. She took over the governorship when disgraced then-governor Robert Bentley resigned in 2017 and she was sworn in.

"She's had a tough job, a lot of stuff has happened, having to step into that office at the time and the circumstance surrounding that, she's a very tough lady," said Shaver.

Shaver then went on to talk about her experiences serving as a member of the legislature.

Shaver said that Alabama's population is over half female but only 14 percent of the legislators in Montgomery are female.

When asked why, Shaver said that women are busy with other obligations and the job of public service is time consuming.

"We don't get a lot of encouragement, and sadly not from each other, I have found,"

"I don't consider myself a feminist, I don't expect special treatment, I just want equal treatment," said Shaver.

When Shaver started running for office she said she was asked who would take care of her children.

"Would anybody ask that of a man? No," she said.

Shaver said she helped one of her constituents, a male, for three days, however the outcome of his situation was not in his favor.

Shaver said the man said, "'Now don't take this the wrong way but is there a man over you that I can talk to about this.'"

Shaver then said, "I would tell you to call the governor but she's a woman too so I guess you're out of luck."

Shaver relayed the story to Governor Ivey who showed no sympathy but did have some advice.

"She said, 'All in a day's work, Ginny, all in a day's work," said Shaver.

After the history lesson Shaver along with Representative Bob Fincher, R- Woodland, who represents the southern end of Cleburne County, answered questions about various topics including medical marijuana and gambling.

Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.