Remarkable Women of the Smokies

Remarkable Women of the Smokies

By Sarah Shiver

Many inspiring and influential women have ties to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some lived and died in the Smokies before the park was established, while others advocated for the park’s creation or drew artistic inspiration from it. In honor of Women’s History Month, here is a look at three women of the smokies and the incredible lives they led.

Lydia Whaley
Lydia Whaley, NPS photo

Lydia Kear Whaley made a living in these mountains through a lifetime of hard work. In 1864, when Lydia was just 24 years old and pregnant with her third child, her eldest child and husband died. Instead of remarrying, Lydia chose to take care of her family on her own. For several years she kept herself and her two daughters alive by growing vegetables, raising livestock, and hunting wild game with a rifle. As she grew older, Lydia also became well-known for her handicrafts, including basket-weaving and creating her own textiles to use in her small tailor business.

Lydia Whaley
Lottie Queen Stamper, 1948, at the Craftman’s Fair of the Southern Highlands in Gatlinburg, TN. Photo courtesy of Southern Highland Craft Guild Archives.

Lottie Queen Stamper was a Cherokee basket weaver who was skilled in weaving techniques that some researchers had deemed to be lost. Awed by her talent, in 1937 the principal of the Cherokee Training School invited Lottie to teach the art of basket weaving to the school’s high school students. She agreed and soon fell in love with her job. Lottie felt that it was important to pass her knowledge along to younger generations, and she continued to work as an instructor at various institutions for more than 30 years. Her dedication to teaching the craft rekindled the knowledge of, and appreciation for, traditional basket weaving among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Laura Thornburgh
Laura Thornburgh, NPS photo

Laura Thornburgh was born and raised in Knoxville, just beyond the Smokies, but she felt a strong connection to the mountains. Throughout her life, Laura helped raise support for the creation of GSMNP in various ways. Laura’s social nature led her to actively reach out to politicians to advocate for the creation of the park. She was a talented writer as well, writing about the area’s ecology, history, and culture for various publications, even writing her own books about the Smokies. Her works document everything from support of the park’s creation in the 1920s to reports of the annual Wildflower Pilgrimage that began in 1950. 

To learn more about these women and others who were influential to, and influenced by, the Smokies, you can purchase the book Women of the Smokies by Courtney Lix here.

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