Thelma Stovall - Political Life

Historical Marker #2170 in Shelby County recognizes the political achievements of Thelma Stovall, who became the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor of Kentucky in 1975.

Stovall was a female pioneer in southern politics. She began her long career serving in the Kentucky House of Representatives, where she served three terms. She was elected secretary of state in 1956, 1964, and 1972, and served as state treasurer in 1960 and 1968. She held those two offices continuously for five consecutive terms, from 1956 to 1975. This practice was known at the time as "musical chairs" office holding, since Kentucky's constitution prohibited any statewide official from serving consecutive terms in the same office.

As secretary of state, Stovall held the third-ranking political office in Kentucky. In 1959, she took advantage of this position while the governor and lieutenant governor were both out of state. Stovall, who was acting governor by law, pardoned three prisoners, including a holdup man sentenced to up to life in prison for stealing $28.00.

In 1975, Stovall became the first woman nominated for lieutenant governor of Kentucky behind the Democratic candidate for governor, Julian Carroll. As lieutenant governor, Stovall was a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Again, acting as governor while Governor Carroll was away, she vetoed the General Assembly's rescission of its ratification of the ERA to the federal Constitution. Stovall made other bold moves as acting governor. On November 13, 1978, she signed a proclamation calling for a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly to cut taxes. The majority of her proposed tax cut legislation was ultimately enacted.

Stovall ran for governor in 1979, but was defeated in the primary by John Y. Brown, Jr. This was the only political loss of Stovall's career. Brown went on to win the election, and appointed Stovall as the state's commissioner of labor. She died in February 1994.