By Dora Sue Oxendine Farmer
Knox County holds many firsts especially in the area of accomplishments of numerous local women. This article will focus on Martha Susan Wilson Costellow who lived and worked in Barbourville during the time of the Civil War.
Ms. Costellow was a woman who accomplished many firsts in her life. She had broad intellectual interests and was accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.
Ms. Costellow was born on September 8, 1847 in Crab Orchard, Kentucky and came with her parents to live in Barbourville in 1848. Her father purchased the lot on the north corner of Knox Street and Liberty Street and operated a cabinet making shop and later a telegraph office in that location. After she inherited this property, Martha who later married William Franklin Costellow built the two story building known at different times as the Costellow Drugstore, the Albright Drugstore and the Corner Drugstore building. (Photos of this building can be seen as the Knox Historical Museum.)
Martha was a very independent woman who was ahead of her times in many ways. Her great grandson, Chares D. Black wrote in the book History and Families of Knox County, Kentucky that his great grandmother was a druggist, a business woman and a temperance advocate. In fact she was the first registered woman pharmacist in Barbourville. When she was 49, she studied pharmacy and took a State Board examination which she successfully passed.
Martha was always ready to take on new challenges and did so very proficiently. She was open to the latest inventions of the time and even purchased the first typewriter owned in Barbourville. She was also one of the first people in Barbourville to own a sewing machine as well as a piano. In 1877, Martha owned the first millinery and book store in town. She also became a Notary Public in 1880. Along with these ventures, she successfully engaged in a US Mail contract.
Ms. Costellow was prominent in civic affairs in Barbourville and was the charter member of the Civic League, one of the organizers of the WCTU. Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was a lifelong member of the Christian Church.
At the request of her family, Martha began writing her memoirs many of which are accounts of the Civil War. She wrote an account of the first Civil War skirmish in Barbourville which occurred on September 19, 1861. Martha was proud of her state’s role in the Civil War since Barbourville was mainly Unionist in sympathy.
Much of the information contained in this article was originally written by Charles R. Mitchell and appeared in the Knox Countian in 1991, fall edition of the newsletter. Other information for this story came from an article found in The Barbourville Mountain Advocate on September 12, 1919.