Thelma Hawkins Stovall

Born: April 1, 1919

Died:February 4, 1994

Born Thelma Loyace Hawkins in Munfordville, Kentucky, on April 1, 1919(Johnson 1994), Thelma moved to Louisville at the age of eight with her mother and sister. She attended Louisville Girls High School, and while she dreamed of being a nurse when she was young, her life took a different turn.(Reeves 1956)

After high school, she began work at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, sweeping floors.(Johnson 1994) She met her husband, Lonnie Raymond Stovall, there and married him in 1936 when she was seventeen. She moved up at Brown & Williamson, from sweeping floors to running machines, to working as an office clerk and she became deeply involved with the Tobacco Workers Local Union 185. The union chapter elected her recording secretary in 1945.(Reeves 1956) She chaired Local 185's Labor League for Political Education, and represented the chapter at the national convention of the International Tobacco Workers Union.(Yager 1949)

"Once you get in the labor movement you can't get out. You get more and more interested." -Stovall (Yager 1949)

Through her work with the union, she made friends and allies which led the union to nominate her to run for office and to her winning election to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1949. She learned all she could about government, parliamentary procedure, and even took a course in public speaking to help herself meet the new challenges.(Freeman 1952) In her new position as a legislator she fought for workers, and women, as well as the mentally and physically handicapped.

She served six years (three terms) in the legislature before being elected, at the age of 29, to the post of Secretary of State for Kentucky. She served in that position for three terms: 1956-60, 1964-68, and 1972-76. In the intervening years, she served as Kentucky State Treasurer.

In 1975 she won election to become the first woman Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky."Secretary") In 1978 while Acting Governor she called a special session of the legislature in which she passed legislation to remove taxes on home utilities and vetoed a measure to rescind Kentucky's ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.(Johnson 1994)

The simple statement contained within the Equal Rights Amendment, reads: ''Equality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.' It carries only the promise of equal treatment and protection under the law. No one should seek more, and no government should afford less.

– Stovall(Stovall 1978)

She served a total of 24 years in office and never lost a race until she ran for governor in 1979.(Johnson 1994)

Martha Layne Collins, who became Kentucky's first female governor in 1983 credited Stovall and other pioneering women politicians "for laying the groundwork for women candidates in statewide races."(Fraas 2001, p216)

Sources and Recommended Reading

Fraas, Elizabeth, and Martha Layne Collins. "'All Issues Are Women's Issues': An Interview with Governor Martha Layne Collins on Women in Politics." The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 99, no. 3 (Summer 2001): 213-48.
Freeman, Don. "Two Union Leaders Disprove Woman's Frailty." Courier - Journal, May 25, 1952 1952, 3.
Hall, Sharon, and Janice Stieneker. "Thelma Stovall." In Oral History Collection. University Archives & Records Center, University of Louisville, 1977.
Johnson, Bob. "Thelma H. Stovall, 1919-1994: Political Pioneer Stood for Labor, Women's Rights." Obituary, Courier - Journal, February 5, 1994.
K'Meyer, Tracy E. "Dolores Delahanty." In Oral History Collection. University Archives & Records Center, University of Louisville, April 14, 2000.
"Kentucky Secretary of State Thelma Stovall, 1967." January 30, 1967. Accessed: January 26, 2021,
Reeves, Ben. "It's 'Madame Labor' Vs. 'Miss Lennie' -- and No Holds Barred." Courier - Journal, March 18, 1956, 4.
Ryan, Ed. "Kentucky House Votes to Rescind ERA Ratification." Courier - Journal, February 19, 1976.
"Secretary of State Thelma Loyace Hawkins Stovall." Accessed October 18, 2020,
"Statement by Lt. Governor Thelma Stovall." 1978, 2009,
"Thelma Stovall." Accessed 2020-12-15,
Yager, Eleanor. "Meet Four Women Labor Union Officers." Courier - Journal, September 4, 1949, 4.