Emma Guy Cromwell, Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1924-28, was born in Simpson or Allen County on September 28, 1865. Her father’s name is variously given as Benjamin Ashley Guy or Ashley Duncan Guy, and her mother was Alice (Quisenberry) Guy. She had one sister and two brothers. She claimed Simpson, Allen, and Warren counties as “home.” Her parents died when she was young, and the Masonic Order of Kentucky provided for her education. She graduated from Howard Female College in Gallatin, Tennessee, and later studied parliamentary law at the University of Michigan, becoming an authority on parliamentary procedure.
In 1896, with the backing of some influential Democratic politicians, Guy was chosen by the Kentucky General Assembly for the post of state librarian. In 1897 she married William F. Cromwell, a Frankfort attorney, and they had one son (likely his son and her stepson), William Foree. Her husband died in 1909, and her son died from an accident in young adulthood. In her autobiography she recorded: “Time has softened but has not dimmed this grief and I have found a panacea in hard work, and filled my life with duty and my heart with thought for others” (xiv).
After becoming a widow, Cromwell held a variety of political positions. From 1916 to 1918 she was enrolling clerk for the Kentucky House of Representatives; in 1922 she was parliamentarian for both the House and Senate; and in 1923, she ran for the office of Secretary of State, defeating another woman, Mary Elliott Flanery, and two men in the Democratic primary. She went on to defeat her Republican opponent, Eleanor Wickliffe of Bardstown, in the general election. She was sworn in on January 10, 1924, becoming the first woman elected to statewide office in Kentucky.
While serving as Secretary of State, Cromwell discovered, organized, and catalogued the records of previous administrations that she found in barrels in the Capitol basement. She also became the first woman to serve as Governor when the Governor and two other officials in the line of succession were all out of state attending the Democratic National Convention.
In 1927 Cromwell was elected State Treasurer. Following her term as Treasurer, she was named director of Kentucky state parks, a post that she held for four years. In 1937, Governor A. B. Chandler appointed her State Librarian and Director of Archives. During her term in this position, she located and returned to the state the original Kentucky Constitution that was at the University of Chicago Archives.
In 1918 she published Cromwell’s Compendium of Parliamentary Law, and in 1939 her autobiography, A Woman in Politics. She was active in Democratic politics until 1949, when she fell and broke a hip. Several months after suffering a stroke, she died of pneumonia at her home in Frankfort on July 19, 1952. The house still stands at 122 West State Street.
Emma Guy Cromwell, Woman in Politics (Louisville, 1939).
1870 U.S. Census.
Information supplied by Robert P. Balch, Cromwell’s great-great-nephew, July 2004.
Kentucky Death Certificate No. 14294 (1952).
John E. Kleber Jr., ed., The Kentucky Encyclopedia (Lexington, 1992).
Louisville Courier-Journal, July 20 1952.
National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, vol. 110, p. 249.
Southard, Mary Young, and Miller, Ernest C. Who’s Who in Kentucky: A Biographical Assembly of Notable Kentuckians (Louisville, 1936).
Diana Taylor, Emma Guy Cromwell: Blazing the Trail (n.p., 1995).
(Researcher’s Note: Sources vary as to Cromwell’s place and date of birth and her father’s name. Her autobiography lists her birthplace as Simpson County and her father’s name as Ashley Duncan Guy. Her death certificate lists her birthplace as Allen County, and it gives her birth date as 1865, though some sources give it as 1869. Her DAR papers give her place of birth as Simpson County and her father’s name as Benjamin Ashley Guy, which is the name that also appears in the family Bible. The 1870 Census gives Benjamin Ashley Guy as living in Simpson County with a daughter, Emma, aged five.)