Appalachian Identity

My Appalachian Identity

There’s a place in my hometown of Louisa, Kentucky that I always love to go when I visit. It’s a little diner called Dee’s Drive-In, and it’s the only one of its kind. It’s a place I always go to when I want good food, when I want to hear my dad talk about the extreme amounts of ice cream he consumed there in his little league days, or when I want to hear about one of my parents’ many dates there as high school sweethearts. It’s the first place I always take my friends from college when they come to visit, and it’s the last place I go before I drive back to my apartment in Lexington.

The chocolate milkshake and waffle fries that I always get reminds me of all the memories that I have of home, and how special it is to be from a place like Appalachia. Just like Dee’s Drive-In, Appalachia is a one of a kind place.

I could start my story about being from Appalachia at the beginning of my life, living in a trailer till I was 5, running barefoot through the grass every summer day, and being on my family farm for hours on end. However, I believe my story starts when I went to college, because that’s when I realized how much being from Appalachia shaped me into the person I am today.

As I was about to graduate high school, I decided I was going to attend the University of Kentucky, which was my dream school. I decided to major in History, which I later changed to Secondary Education, and I could not wait to get out of Louisa and move to the big city of Lexington. Eventually, August rolled around, and I moved in, and after a few semesters of being in school and talking to others from all around the country, I realized just how lucky I was to be from my small, little town of Louisa. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do in Lexington that I was able to do in Louisa, and I definitely missed the peace and quiet of the country.

I realized that Appalachia was a unique place, and I began to take pride in where I came from. To expand my knowledge, I took every Appalachian-tailored course that my schedule, and my advisor would allow me to. One of my required history courses centered around the Hatfield and McCoy Feud and Appalachian violence in the 19th century, and this class was the first time I was exposed to the history of exploitation of the region itself. After that class, I wanted to focus all of my time and effort on Appalachia anyway I could.

My junior year of college, a friend of mine told me about a research internship with one of our professors that I should look into. I was lucky enough to get the internship, and work directly with the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project with a couple of professors in the history department at UK. Both of my mentors allowed me to focus my research on Eastern Kentucky. Through this internship I was able to learn more about women in the Appalachian region, their involvement in the U.S. Woman Suffrage Movement, and co-write a biopic about Laura Rogers White who was a suffragist and architect in the Appalachian region.

After my internship ended, I knew I wanted to keep going with my research. I decided to use my final capstone paper as a way to continue what I had done through my internship. Through 25 pages, I explained the role of Appalachian and Affrilachian women in the greater Woman’s Suffrage Movement. I was able to find newspaper articles, Kentucky Equal Rights Association convention papers, and oral interviews detailing woman’s suffrage and activism in the mountains.

Recently, I was able to present my research at the 10th Annual Appalachian Research Symposium and Arts Showcase at UK on March 2, 2019. I am also excited to present my research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, from April 10th to the 13th, 2019.

I take a lot of pride in being a small voice for these women, and being a person who is able to share their stories with others. I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without their activism and spirit for equality.

Today, I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with my Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education Social Studies, with a specialty in Geography. I am about to start my graduate school program through the University of Kentucky’s College of Education, where I will complete my Master’s degree in Secondary Education. I hope to continue my research through graduate school, and continue to be a voice for Appalachia.

Written By: Kelli E. Lemaster