March is Women’s History Month, where we look back at our female predecessors and take time to acknowledge their accomplishments. One such woman is Venus Ramey.
Venus was born in Ashland, Kentucky on September 26, 1924, to John Coons Ramey and Evalena Brown. While she was still very young, they moved to Waynesburg, Kentucky. Between 1935-1940 her parents divorced. She moved with her mother to 2100 St. James Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Evalena started a boardinghouse. The large brick building was mere feet away from an ever-developing Eden Park. Venus ventured into beauty pageants early, starting with winning Miss Northern Kentucky at the age of 14.
Having moved to Washington D.C. to find work, she entered the Miss District of Columbia pageant and was surprised to win. The young woman, described as “19 and pretty”, then became the first redhead to ever win the title of Miss America, as well as the first to be photographed in color. Her talent was dancing and shaking her hips to ‘Take It Easy’ by Xavier Cugat.
However, the limelight was less enjoyable than one could imagine, with Venus claiming later that her handlers denied her phone calls from her family, and that she would get her ten-thousand-dollar payment for another promotional tour ‘after the trip if you’re a good girl’. She declined. During her time as Miss America, she sold $5 million in war bonds, and spent her time as a political activist, vying for women’s rights and the voting rights of DC residents.
Venus married Joseph Henry Murphy on January 2, 1948 and had two sons. They later divorced, and she moved to Mexico with her children, working as a freelance dress designer. She then moved to California, where the 1960 voter registration shows her living on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. She did voice-over work and commercials in Hollywood. Returning to Cincinnati, she worked as a historical preservationist and a Christmas tree farmer. She was an integral part of starting the campaign to preserve Over-The-Rhine.
During her busy life, Venus continued her interest in politics, having first experienced it when she was a page in the Kentucky Legislature. Both her father and grandfather were members. She ran for the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1951, where a radio broadcast was her first and only political talk. She called for elimination of the law requiring that illegitimate births be shown on birth certificates and election instead of appointment for school boards.
In 1990, Venus Ramey retired to her family farm in Eubank, Kentucky. There she was anything but quiet, heading an unsuccessful lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of tobacco farmers for their anti-tobacco policies, and declared herself to be a write-in candidate in the 2000 presidential election. In April 2007, Venus’ dog alerted her to the presence of an intruder. Using her walker to get around, she confronted the would-be scrap metal thieves when they then attempted to drive away. Meanwhile, the 82-year-old pulled out her snub-nosed .38 and shot out the tires of their truck. Flagging down a passing car to call 911, she kept her gun on the men until police arrived. The Associated Press quoted her as saying:"I didn't even think twice. I just went and did it", she said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be six feet under by now.”
Living with one of her sons in Agoura Hills, California in 2017, Venus Ramey Murphy passed away at the age of 92, from complications due to pneumonia. She was buried in Eubank Cemetery in Kentucky, near her parents.
Blog post written by Jessica Johnson.
Celebrate Women's History Month and check out one of these great books about women in Kentucky.