The Political Life of Gertrude Dills McKee

Written by Craig Cook, Senior Honors student at Western Carolina University

The following is an abstract of a longer research paper written for Robert Ferguson’s History class. If you would like more information please email him at rhferguson@email.wcu.edu.


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Gertrude Dills McKee was born in Dillsboro, North Carolina in 1885. Growing up, McKee sought to better herself through education. She attended Grace College, where she became class president and graduated with first honors with a teaching degree. As a young adult, McKee taught school in Dillsboro, where she met her husband, Ernest Lyndon McKee, a businessman from Sylva. After her wedding, McKee started to get involved in local civic organizations. Throughout the 1920s, McKee would lead many of these organizations. She was president of the Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Daughters of the Confederacy. She would also be appointed to the Board of Trustees of Western Carolina College and the Education Commission. Her speeches would attract hundreds of women from across the south to come and listen. McKee’s most impressive accomplishment would come in 1931 when she was elected as the first female state senator in North Carolina. McKee would serve three terms in the General Assembly.

McKee would also be elected for a 4th time, but she never took office as she passed away from a heart attack three months before taking office. When she took office for the first time, McKee showed that she could hold her own and helped many of her constituents. With each term McKee served, she showed that she held Progressive Era ideals. McKee fought for women’s rights in the workforce and gave speeches to encourage young women to get into politics and into the workforce. She fought to reform child labor laws in hopes that children would get better educational opportunities. She fought for education by introducing bills that would raise the school systems to a new level that can still be felt to this day. Unlike some politicians, she truly cared and listened to her constituents by aiding them in any way that she could.

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