After graduating from Central Colored High School, Georgia attended State University, now Simmons College of Kentucky, and Kentucky State Industrial College, now Kentucky State University. She began her almost 50-year teaching career in 1889. Georgia worked in several of Louisville’s segregated schools and taught Sunday school classes at the Lampton Street Baptist Church. In addition to being active in her church, Georgia played a prominent role in many local and state-level civic organizations.
On September 25, 1896, African American suffragist and anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells delivered her “Lynching in America” speech in Louisville. This speech inspired Georgia and some of the other Louisville women in attendance to establish the Woman’s Improvement Club (WIC). Beginning with 30 to 40 members, this organization advocated for Black women’s access to the ballot. WIC also promoted education and health for African American women to demonstrate their “worthiness” of the vote. At the time of its founding, Georgia Nugent was elected club secretary. Within two years, she became club president and served in this role until her death.
In late 1903, Georgia organized a state-wide Black women’s clubs’ event with her sister Alice, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and other activists. On December 31, 1903, they gathered at Plymouth Congregational Church to form the Kentucky Chapter of the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Speakers at the event included George Washington Carver of the Tuskegee Institute, Kelly Miller of Howard University, and Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, a national organizer from Chicago. At the time of its founding, the organization included 13 Black women’s clubs. It was later renamed the Kentucky Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (KACWC). By 1935, the organization’s membership had increased to 2,500 women from 112 clubs. Georgia Nugent served as KACWC’s first president.
Under Georgia’s leadership, KACWC advocated for Black women’s voting rights and spoke out against lynching and segregation. Many of the organization’s initiatives included support for social reforms for African American children and the elderly. KACWC supported the creation of day care facilities, hospitals, community centers, scholarship funds, and housing for senior citizens and troubled youth.
Many African American women from Kentucky also played a role in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896. In 1914, Georgia Nugent was elected the NACW’s corresponding secretary; within four years, she was elected chairman of the executive board.
Because of Georgia and Alice Nugent’s involvement in civic organizations, their home hosted many guests and events associated with their work. As part of her duties, Georgia also spent a lot of time away from home. She traveled extensively to attend and speak at many state and national events. For example, she attended the Twelfth Biennial NACW convention in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1920. In her speech, she discussed women’s suffrage and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. This Amendment made it illegal to deny the vote based on sex, but it generally did not apply to African American women who were excluded by other means.
After decades of teaching, Georgia Nugent retired in June 1938. She died almost two and a half years later on November 25, 1940. She served as the president of the Woman’s Improvement Club for 41 years. After her death, the organization was renamed the Georgia A. Nugent Improvement Club.
The content for this article was researched and written by Jade Ryerson, an intern with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.
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O’Malley, Nancy. “Kentucky Association of Colored Women's Clubs.” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. Accessed July 24, 2020.
Powell, Sallie L. “Nugent, Georgia Anne and Nugent Alice Emma.” The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Edited by Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2015.