Photographs of Lyda Messer Caudill from the Jean Thomas Collection

Lyda (Stewart) Messer Caudill

Lyda Messer was a daughter of William (Stewart) Messer and Nancy Christian. She was born in Rowan County in 1888 and died in 1958. A granddaughter of Margaret Stewart and Mose Messer, she was a great granddaughter of William Charlie and Mary Polly Stewart. Her family had relocated to Rowan County when her Stewart great grandparents moved there from Knott County in 1862.

Lyda Messer was elected as a Republican candidate to be Superintendent of the Rowan County Schools in 1906 before women had the vote. She had been selected to run by her friend, Cora Wilson Stewart. She was reelected in 1930. In 1910, she established the first school for black students in Rowan County. See Morehead News (April 2, 1999). She and her husband,William T. Caudill, are buried in the Lee Cemetery, Morehead. "Between her first and second term as Rowan School Superintendent, Lyda Messer married William T. Caudill. Mr. Caudill served as County Court Clerk from 1914-1930. They had one daughter, Leona Margaret (Caudill Hurst) ...." Ellis, Morehead Memories (2001 Jesse Stuart Foundation), at page 363.

Lyda was very proud of her Stewart ancestry and annually performed in Jean Thomas' American Folk Song Festival in Ashland, Kentucky, appearing in Scottish costume.

Indeed, her connection to the Stewarts was so well established that at the time of her death, it was reported in the Stewart Clan Magazine, a periodical dedicated to Stewart genealogy:

Mrs. Lydia Messer Caudill, widely known in Kentucky education circles, died Tuesday (Apr. 22, 1958) en route to a Lexington hospital after suffering a stroke at her home (at Morehead),” reported the Ashland Daily Independent. “Mrs. Caudill was a direct descendent of Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland. Her lineage is traced through her father and through the reigns of William & Mary, James II, Charles II and James I of England, who was also James VI of Scotland and son of Mary, queen of Scots. For 26 years Mrs. Caudill was a star of American Folk Song festival held in Ashland. Wearing the royal plaid of the Stuart clan, she annually sang ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie.’ She was unable to appear last year, due to illness, but had been scheduled to sing this year.” Her paternal grandmother was Margaret, daughter of William Stewart, son of Alexander of Knox County, Kentucky. Nobody has yet been able to trace Alexander’s ancestry. Lydia’s belief was fantasy.”

See Stewart Clan Magazine, page 4, volume 35 (1958). The following photographs were taken in the late 1930's.

Lyda with a sign encouraging adult education. She is also credited with starting the first school for African Americans in Rowan County.
Lyda Messer with her father, William (Stewart) Messer and two unidentified persons at a church on Christy Creek. William Messer was born on August 12, 1856 in Letcher County. He married Nancy Jane Christian on April 16, 1878. They are buried in the Dawson Cemetery in Rowan County. After the death of Lyda's mother (Nancy Christian), he married Alemeda Sparks on June 4, 1891.

 

William Messer with his second wife, Alemeda Sparks.

 

Lyda at family homestead in Rowan County playing accordion.
Lyda at the family homestead.

 

Lyda in Scottish costume at the American Folk Song Festival with young lassie.
Lyda in Scottish costume at the American Folk Song Festival with young lassie.

 

Lyda Messer Caudill dressed as Mary, Queen of the Scots.

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