New Women of Kentucky

September 21, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Political history

Starting in the 19th century and continuing all the way up until today, women have been creating and demonstrating themselves in ways that are new to a society historically dominated by men. These new women of the mid to late 19th century and early 20th century have shown themselves to men across America, that they can be an independent, intelligent and powerful force. Certain women believed that the lifestyle of a submissive, quiet housewife was not the life they wanted to live. Emma Guy Cromwell and Mary Elliott Flanery from Kentucky were two of these new women.[1]

Historical Marker about Mary E. Flanery at Elliott Hall, 2716 Panola St., Catlettsburg, KYThese women believed that they were capable of contributing more to their communities. They wanted to provide service and influence positive change throughout the region, including the continued suffrage of women. Flanery sought a higher education and was able to attend Barbourville College in West Virginia and the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington Kentucky.  She was forced to fight a gender barrier while seeking a higher education because at the time it was rare for young women to attend college, let alone two different colleges that were mostly filled with men. Flanery also participated in several women’s clubs, which were positive for all women involved. They were able to go out into the community and make a difference with the work by clubs such as Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and the Cattlesburg Women’s Literary Club. By helping other women become more independent through education, Flanery was making a difference with these clubs. Mary Flanery also demonstrated her will to improve women’s disposition in Kentucky by involving herself in political life. She became the first women in the Kentucky legislator just one year after women received the right to vote in 1921.

Emma Guy Cromwell

Emma Guy Cromwell

On the other side of the state Emma Cromwell was also doing everything she could to raise the social, political and importance of women in Kentucky society. She too sought higher education and left her home in Kentucky to travel to Gallatin, Tennessee to attend Howard Female College and shortly after completion began teaching school back in Scottsville, Kentucky. She adamantly participated in women’s clubs like D.A.R., Y.W.C.A. and the Parent Teachers Association (P.T.A.) and was elected to state librarian 24 years before women could even vote in 1896. Cromwell pursued a political career after the death of her husband and became the first women to be elected to a statewide position when in 1923 she became the secretary of state for Kentucky and in 1927 she became the first women to be the state treasurer. Both of these women were dedicated to making women of both Kentucky and the United States more prominent, intelligent and important through club work, the spread of education and the ability to reach out to numerous women across the state due to their political careers.


[1] Rebecca S. Hanly, “Emma Guy Cromwell and Mary Elliott Flannery: Pioneers for Women in Kentucky Politics,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 99 (Summer 2001), 289.

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