Advocacy in Action: Meet the KFW Board – Lee Alcott

Ellen Birkett Morris has been interviewing KFW Board members and will profile a different Board member each month.

LEE ALCOTT, Board Member

Working for Change

Lee Alcott first learned of the Kentucky Foundation for Women in 1993 when she moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Sulphur Well in Metcalfe County. “I was impressed with KFW’s focus on feminist artists and the opportunities the foundation provided for artists to explore feminist perspectives through the written word and visual arts,” said Lee. She continued to follow the KFW and wrote letters of recommendation for other artists, including one who facilitated group work with survivors of domestic violence. She joined the Board of KFW in March of 2017.

Part of the reason KFW resonated with her over a number of years was its emphasis on creative expression. “Creativity has always been a refuge and healing force in my life. We always had materials for ‘making stuff’ around our house—even if it was old cardboard from cereal boxes, pieces of yarn or fabric from my mother’s crochet or quilt projects, or scraps of wood and wood shavings from my father’s shop,” said Lee.

She first connected creativity to a realization of the injustices in the world when she was in elementary school. The school she attended was converted to a “boarding school” to accommodate many of the young girls separated from their parents in the airlifting of thousands of Cuban children to the United States in the early 1960s. Children were placed with relatives, boarding schools, or group homes until they could be reunited with their parents. “While I was in 4th grade we prepared for their arrival by making cards and drawing pictures to welcome the girls. I remember learning about the injustices around the world at that time including those related to a communist regime in Cuba,” said Lee.

Lee’s activism started early. She was educated at a Catholic high school in Philadelphia in the mid-60s and taught by a Spanish order of nuns, whose teaching promoted service to others.

“I had a voice, even though my voice was not always popular or accepted. During the United Farmworkers strike I started a grape and lettuce boycott in our small cafeteria. I was surprised I didn’t get in trouble. After that it was civil rights marches and anti-war protests. And more poetry, collages, and photographs. I discovered female writers and gained courage to stand up for the rights of others,” said Lee.

“At the time I saw feminism as a choice . . . and that choice included making the world more equitable for girls and women.”

An avid reader, Lee kept journals and wrote poetry in high school. She became a teacher, teaching Junior High writing and literature for several years in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston.

She later pursued her interest in psychology and holistic healing and pursued a master’s degree in expressive therapy from Lesley University in Cambridge MA. “At the time, I was a self-taught artist with no studio training, a requirement for admission into the program. I was determined to get accepted based on my portfolio, so I dressed ‘artsy’ for the admissions interview, and brought a portfolio of my drawings to present to the four interviewers. In retrospect, I see my decision to apply without a studio art requirement as a feminist statement, a carryover from the 1960s. I was accepted into the program, and continued my journey with art, healing, justice-work, and social change,” said Lee.

She spent 18 years as the Executive Director of the Barren River Area Safe Space, a domestic violence shelter and program in Bowling Green, KY that served 10 counties. Lee helped develop policy on the local and state levels, designed and implemented programs to end homelessness for victims/survivors of domestic violence, such as Housing First and Rapid Rehousing, worked with battered immigrant and undocumented women who were also victims of domestic violence, created children’s programming that focused on safety, social justice and empowerment, healthy eating, and nutritional programming for women (including creating food mandalas as both an artistic expression and education about healthy foods), and engaged regional female artists to work with shelter groups.

“I also co-founded a short-lived endeavor called Artists for Peace. It was an attempt to solicit art pieces from artists across Kentucky to be donated for a live auction that benefited the domestic violence shelters that comprise the Kentucky Coalition against Domestic Violence. It was an amazing experience that helped to spread awareness about violence against women and raise funds for the shelters. We were able to meet artists from across the state who shared a passion to end violence against women.”

Now retired, she is a member of the Women’s Fund of South Central Kentucky. The group is committed to making a positive impact in the lives of women and children in south central Kentucky. She has served on the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Professional Art Therapists for the past seven years, and has assisted in writing legislation to help promote the field of art therapy in the Commonwealth. Lee has served on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Task Force with the Office of the Attorney General, and is a volunteer with United Way of South Central Kentucky. In October 2016, she was recognized as one of 60 United Way Heroes for work in the community.

As Lee has grown so has her conception and understanding of feminism. “My current perspective has evolved and took on new meaning after I had two daughters. I knew I taught them well when my oldest organized a Title IX team at her high school to start a female soccer team.”

“Feminism is looking at the world through an inclusive lens, working towards equity, demonstrating respect in word and action, staying strong in the midst of fear, and recognizing the process can change for each individual. Feminism is the right to make choices and the ability to exercise that right in the midst of injustice and oppression.”

As she furthers the work of KFW, Lee is hopeful about the future of women and girls in Kentucky. “My hope includes an increase in female leadership in our state and federal legislatures. My hope includes an increased sense of equity for all women and girls in the Commonwealth, no matter their status, education, or geographical location. My hope includes that women and girls will experience employment without a wage gap. My hope is to promote the rights of female crime victims. I have two grandsons and talk to them about these issues. They are caring, sensitive and aware of the need for equity and justice.”