Brian Spangle

Bainum First Woman Member of Vincennes School Board

June 11, 1917, was a significant day in local history. On that evening, a Vincennes City Council meeting was held during which Mrs. Charles (Byrde) Bainum was elected to the Board of School Trustees. Mrs. Bainum is significant as being the first woman member of the board.

Born J. Byrdella Irwin (she would always go by Byrde) in Marion County, Illinois, she grew up with certain advantages. Her father, Joseph, was a doctor, and, after graduating from Southern Illinois College in Enfield in 1894 with a bachelor’s degree, she taught mathematics at that school. It is also where she met her husband, Charles Bainum. They married on Nov. 13, 1900, and would raise two children, Mary and Charles J.

For a time, the couple lived in Carmi, Illinois, where Charles practiced law and published the newspaper The Carmi Times.

The Bainums then moved to Bicknell. In 1904 the First National Bank of Bicknell was organized, and Charles Bainum held the position of cashier. He was also involved in the real estate business. Bicknell was booming at that time, with families moving to the city to take advantage of jobs offered in the coal mines. Bainum sold hundreds of homes to miners and developed the Maplewood Addition to the city.

Charles and Byrde Bainum moved to Vincennes in 1914 when the former was elected to the position of president of the newly formed Knox Bank & Trust Company, a job he held until August 1918. That same year, he was elected Joint State Senator for Knox and Pike Counties.

Charles Bainum was next secretary-treasurer of the Bainum Investment Company, a real estate investment concern, with Byrde serving as vice-president. He was also president of the Bainum-Phillippe Company, which handled loans and all kinds of insurance. Both businesses were located in the American National Bank building. He had other business interests as well.

At that time, voters didn’t elect school board members, rather they were elected by the city council. The election was held to replace member Rush Bond, whose term was nearing its end, and, due to health concerns, chose not to stand again. Bond died that summer. Local women’s groups had been pushing for a female member for some time and many women were in attendance at the meeting. Two women were in contention for the position, and the vote was along partisan lines. Bainum received five votes, all Republican, and Miss Margaret Holland, a longtime Vincennes teacher, got the three Democrat votes. Bainum’s term began on Aug. 1. The board would be comprised of Bainum, Patrick Lenahan, and Dr. James N. McCoy.

It was an especially significant time to be serving on the school board. In those years, the board had auspices over the Vincennes Public Library and construction of the library’s Carnegie building was about to begin. Mrs. Bainum was president of the board when the library was dedicated in April 1919.

Byrde Bainum would serve a full term on the school board. Her term ended on Aug. 31, 1920. On June 14, the city council elected another woman, Mrs. Dora Prather, a one-time teacher, to replace her. The vote was unanimous.

The couple moved to St. Petersburg, Florida in about 1923, where Charles continued to practice law.

Byrde Bainum died on March 1, 1951, at St. Petersburg. Charles had passed away in 1944. The Bainums are interred in that city’s Memorial Park Cemetery.

Today, just over a century after Byrde Bainum’s election to the Vincennes School Board, school boards in the United States have the most equitable makeup of men and womennwhen compared to all other governing bodies.

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