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Emma Guy Cromwell (1869-1952) was a "political pioneer among Kentucky women." Elected Secretary of State in 1923, she was the first woman to hold a statewide office. Over the course of her career she held the positions of state Treasurer, State Park Director, State Librarian and Director of the Department of library and Archives.


  • Emma Guy Cromwell (1869-1952). Courier-Journal.

Emma Guy Cromwell (1869-1952) was born in 1869 in Scottsville, KY. She lost her father, Ashley Guy, while an infant, and was raised by her mother Alice Quisenberry Guy. During early adolescence, Emma’s mother passed away, and she continued her education with the support and care of the Masonic Lodge of Scottsville. Her father had played an important role in founding and supporting the Masonic institution.

Emma showed an immense dedication to learning, and at the age of 14 she taught school throughout Allen County. She attended Bowling Green Normal College, followed by Howard Female College in Gallatin, TN. She continued on to study parliamentary law at the University of Michigan.

Moving to Frankfort, KY in 1896 at the age of 27l, Emma established her career and future in politics. She then acquired the position of state librarian, and as her obituary reads, “The Kentucky Senate elected the state librarian in those days and her tenacity won her the place.” Within in a year of residing in Frankfort, she married William F. Cromwell, a Frankfort attorney who later served as clerk of the Kentucky Senate. They raised one son together, William Foree Cromwell, who died in early adulthood.

Only three years after women gained the right to vote, Emma was elected Secretary of State in 1923, when she was the first woman to hold a statewide office. She was 55 years old at the time. Sadly, her husband William F. Cromwell never witnessed her swearing in, as he passed away years prior in 1909. Historians wonder what would have become of Emma if her son and husband had not passed away; she once stated marriage “held the only true contentment I have ever known…had it continued I would never have chosen a public career.” Although she saw marriage as a personal joy and source of contentment, she supported the opportunities that opened up for women. She was a member of the Frankfort Board of Education, and was active in the plans for a new high school.

In 1927 at the age of 58, Emma ran for state Treasurer, and she won the position, defeating two men in the primary and one in the general election. She held the position from 1927-1931. Following a loss campaigning to return as Secretary of State, Emma was appointed as State Park Director in 1932. She met controversy in the form of accusations that federal funds relating to join federal-state parks projects were mismanaged. She resigned as Federal Procurement Officer, but maintained her Park Director position. Later on in 1937, Governor Albert B. Chandler appointed Emma as the State Librarian and Director of the Department of library and Archives, created under the Governor’s 1936 Reorganization Act. She was 68 at the time. Over the course of her career she published Woman in Politics, and A Manual for Voters.

On July 19, 1952 at the age of 83 Emma Guy Cromwell passed away. She is buried in Frankfort Cemetery. In talking to her friends Emma stated, “I am merely a plain, matter-of-fact woman, doing the best I can, always. As voters, we women are just as responsible for good government as are the men.”

Cromwell, Emma Guy, "Woman In Politics," Kentucky Commission on Women (Frankfort: viii-xii). 1996. Print.

"Early Woman Politico, Mrs. Cromwell, Dies," Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) July 20, 1952. Newspapers.com

"Emma Guy Cromwell," KY Women's History Project. Vimeo. http://www.kywomenshistoryproject.com/emma-guy-cromwell-2/. 

Hanly, Rebecca S. "Emma Guy Cromwell and Mary Elliott Flanery: Pioneers for Women in Kentucky Politics." The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 99, no. 3 (2001): 287-301. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23384608.

"Kentucky Woman, Self-Made, Bids For Fame In Politics," Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) March 7, 1926. Newspapers.com.

"Mrs. Emma Cromwell Dies At Frankfort After Long Illness," Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) July 20, 1952. Newspapers.com.

Taylor, Diana, "Emma Guy Cromwell Blazing the Trail," Women's Center Kentucky Commission on Women. 1995. Print.