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Covington Rename Part of Street in Honor of Ladies Home Founder

When the Ohio River reached then-record levels in 1884, the catastrophic flood displaced thousands of Covington residents.

The plight of elderly women - including Civil War widows and so-called "spinsters" - was particularly desperate, given the conventions of that era which severely limited their independence and financial wherewithal.

So Ellen Battelle Dietrick took action.

Having previously created an employment and training bureau for women in need of skills and income, Battelle Dietrick - the Virginian-born wife of a bookkeeper for Stewart Iron Works in Covington - began taking women directly into her home.

Then she reached higher.

Realizing that there were many more homeless women than she could personally accommodate, she solicited the help of philanthropically-minded friends and some wealthier Covington businessmen.

What started as the Home for Aged and Indigent Women at 10th and Russell streets became in 1894 the present-day Covington Ladies Home at Seventh and Garrard streets - a non-profit, personal care facility that even today provides a home for about two dozen elderly women.

The Covington facility is known for the compassionate and individualized attention it gives residents. It's a mission handed straight down from a founder who unfortunately has been all but forgotten outside its walls, said its CEO, Carrie VanDerzee.

"We've literally been anchoring this block since 1894," VanDerzee said. "We're her legacy, but yet no one seems to remember her. She simply does not get the recognition she deserves."

Renaming event Friday

Last November, the Covington City Commission agreed to rename the tiny half block (whose sole occupant is the Ladies Home) "Battelle Lane" after its founder and her accomplished family.

With the weather finally warming, a ceremony to unveil the new street sign will be held at 1 p.m. Friday in front of the facility.

The event will include proclamations from Covington Mayor Joe Meyer and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, an appearance by the ROTC Marine Color Guard from Holmes High School, and an array of out-of-town dignitaries, said William Konop, the Home's advancement director.

Why?

Battelle Dietrick's brother, John Gordon Battelle, pioneered development of the steel industry in the South and Midwest and was a director of the company that later became AK Steel.

And her nephew, Gordon Battelle, was the founder of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit that manages scientific research facilities and also manages a number of national laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy.

"We're happy that they retained such an interest in the Battelle connection," Konop said.

Covington City Manager David Johnston said City officials will attend the event to show appreciation for the Battelle family and its contributions to Covington.

"Ever since I started in Covington, I've been amazed at how the benevolence of citizens over 100 years ago helped shape the city into what it is today, and that's especially true with the Battelle family," Johnston said. "It shows that the spirit of Covington is not a shallow thing but has deep roots."

Ellen Battelle Dietrick left Covington when her husband was transferred again but continued to fight for justice for women. As a writer and lecturer, she advocated for the suffrage movement and helped to found what later became the League of Women Voters and "The Woman's Bible" before her early death.

Officials from the Ladies Home also intend to nominate their founder for inclusion in the permanent Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit in the state Capitol Building.

Ladies Home to grow

But the renamed block and recognition for its founder are only pieces of a much larger transformation for the Covington Ladies Home.

After two years of raising funds, in June it will break ground on a major expansion. The small added-on wing to the south will be demolished and replaced with a U-shaped addition that will expand its capacity to serve 40 women. Architectural drawings are finished, zoning approval is in hand, and the State has authorized its Certificate of Need, VanDerzee said.

Befitting its regional focus and the stately architecture of its building, the facility will also get a new name: The Victorian at Riverside.

"We've come a long way from the 1800s," said VanDerzee, noting that at its start, residents were known as "inmates."

A public open house will be held May 11 for potential new residents, said Konop, who noted the facility's excitement about the future.

"Our mission has never changed, but this new facility will take (Ellen Battelle Dietrick's) intent into the next 100 years," he said.

From the City of Covington

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