Original Air Date
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Original WKMS story description
June Laffoon Taylor was born in Earlington, just south of Madisonville in 1921. After graduating from Murray State University, she went on to a lifetime career in Kentucky politics, holding prominent roles from being a Democratic Party leader to the commonwealth's first female Chief of Staff. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian of MSU's Pogue Library about the university's large collection documenting her life and the challenges she overcame as a prominent woman in Kentucky politics.
When she graduated Earlington High School, Annise June Laffoon Taylor went on to attend Murray State, where she took the merit exam in 1941 to work in government.
A lifelong Democrat, Taylor worked for ten democratic governors and ran numerous presidential and gubernatorial campaigns in Kentucky.
Her career ebbs and flows, Hopley says. When there was a Democratic governor in office she worked in that office. She was the executive secretary for Governor Ned Breathitt, then when a Republican came into office (Republican Governor Louie Nunn followed Breathitt), she'd step down and go to the Department of Transportation or worked on a campaign.
Many times, in order to get to the governor, you had to go through Taylor first. Working with Governor Breathitt, she had some role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act, worked with roads and transportation, ensured voting rights for people. She also wrote several speeches and rode the press junket.
She was the first female chief of staff in the commonwealth and second in the nation. The peak of her career began in 1980, while working for Governor John Y. Brown, Jr. when she was appointed the chief of staff position, which she held until retiring in 1983.
Collection at Pogue
The large personal collection at Pogue Library featured photographs of Taylor sitting on the steps of the library on campus, Christmas cards from George McGovern, Kentucky governors and Edward Kennedy. There's also a "signed" letter from President John F. Kennedy - auto-penned. Other items include her job description, her business cards, a pass to access the U.S. House of Representatives and newspaper articles.
Being a woman with prominent roles in Kentucky politics in the 1950s and 60s, Taylor faced no shortage of sexism in her time. Archived in her collection include a letter that reads, "If (Senator Robert) Humphreys brought down the beauty average at the head of the table you at least brought it back up." Newspaper clippings from the 1960s read "Breathitt's Executive Secretary Is Attractive And Efficient" (Louisville Times 12/7/64) and "Pretty 'Girl Friday' Top Figure in Ned's Busy World" (Kentucky Post 12/2/64).
Taylor was involved with Democratic women's organizations and gave a speech in Washington D.C. in the late 60s, where she remarked "Men assume positions with a presumption of competence while women assume positions with a burden of proof." Hopley says this statement covers her career quite well.
Taylor's father owned the Laffoon Coal Company, so they were possibly financially well-off, Hopley says. She is also distantly related to Democratic Governor Ruby Laffoon. In a letter, she mentioned once that she was "never hurting" growing up, and could afford to go to college.
Letterhead in the collection from her father's family, possibly dated in the 1920s or 30s, depicts an African American girl with text making a connection to her skin color and the 'cleanliness' of coal. Hopley says she doesn't think Taylor had a close relationship with her father, as many of her birthday cards are simply signed 'DBL.'
She married twice in her life. In 1944, she wed a local boy named 'Hickey.' Later in life, she remarried a man named Redwood Taylor in 1961, possibly eloped. She was also active in Capital City Christian Church in Frankfort.
While there's no mention of her coming back to western Kentucky or Murray State, her life story is well preserved in a collection at Pogue Library. However, finding details about Taylor online are scarce.
June Laffoon Taylor died in 2004.
Markgraf, Matt and Hopley, Sarah, "Remembering June Laffoon Taylor's Lifelong Career in Kentucky Politics" (2016). Special Collections on WKMS. 18.