Historical Marker #2167 in Frankfort recognizes the nuanced political career of Emma Guy Cromwell, Kentucky’s first female secretary of state.
Cromwell was born in 1869 in Simpson County; unfortunately, her father died when she was an infant and her mother passed away when she was a teenager. Cromwell earned a degree from Howard Female College in Gallatin, Tennessee through the support of her local Masonic lodge which paid her tuition. In 1896, Cromwell left her hometown after being recruited by local Democrats, to serve as State Librarian.
In 1897, Cromwell married Frankfort attorney William Cromwell. After her term as State Librarian ended, she took a step back from politics. However, in 1909 her husband died and soon after Cromwell re-entered public life. Perhaps the climax of her political career occurred in 1923-24 when she ran as a Democrat for Kentucky Secretary of State and won. Thus, Cromwell became the first women in Kentucky to be elected to statewide office. As Secretary of State, Cromwell would accomplish another first when she became the first woman to serve as Governor while Governor William J. Fields and two officials in the line of succession were out of the state to attend the Democratic National Convention.
In addition to her work in the government, Cromwell was a founding member of the Kentucky Democratic Woman’s Club and active in Frankfort’s Woman’s club.
In 1939 Cromwell wrote an autobiography entitled, Women in Politics. In 1996 an edited version of her autobiography was re-published by the Kentucky Commission on Women. In the re-published version, the majority of the edits were related to racist language and ideology espoused in the original. In part, the editors decided that Cromwell used the language of her time, rather than language that reflected her beliefs. However, a close analysis of how Cromwell speaks about the black community and the role of women in society it becomes clear that Cromwell, like many Southern Democrats of her day, was racist and believed that white supremacy in the South should be maintained. Furthermore, while Cromwell was in favor of certain women getting the right to vote and being involved in politics, there is no evidence to suggest she was active in the women's suffrage movement.
Cromwell died in 1952 at her Frankfort home and was buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.
Source: Cromwell, Emma Guy. Women in Politics. Louisville, Ky.: Standard Print. Co., 1939; Kentucky Commission on Women, Women in Politics Frankfort, Ky. 1996.
The first woman in Kentucky elected to statewide office, Cromwell was elected sec. of state in 1923. She held many political positions during a long career. Chosen state librarian in 1896 by legislature; was elected treasurer in 1927. Served as dir. of state parks, dir. of archives & state librarian.
A political pioneer, Cromwell encouraged women to follow her in “blaz[ing] a trail for a new day for women when they can stand side by side with men in governing our great country.” She called Simpson, Allen, and Warren counties “home” but lived her adult life in Frankfort, where she died, July 19,1952.