“Well-behaved women seldom make history,” observed Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. But what about a woman who took issue with the behavior of others — for example, the rumrunners of Cumberland County? Pearl Eagle Carter Pace, born in Tompkinsville in 1896, became the first woman in Kentucky elected to a four-year term as sheriff. Before taking office in 1938, she had taught school, kept the books for several family businesses, and become the mother of three children. Succeeding her husband, Stanley D. Pace, as sheriff, she declared war on the bootleggers of Cumberland County. Although she insisted that she’d never used a gun, she was tagged with the nickname “Pistol-Packin’ Pearl.”
After her husband’s death in 1940, Pace immersed herself in state Republican politics. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed her to the War Claims Commission; as its chairman in 1959, she became the second-highest ranking woman in the administration. Pace’s work for numerous civic, political, business and professional organizations in both Kentucky and Washington, D.C. continued, despite failing health, until her death in 1970.
Through the generosity of her family, WKU’s Special Collections Library holds a large collection of Pearl Carter Pace’s personal and professional papers. Included are her arrest log book and other sheriff’s records, dozens of speeches, correspondence relating to her political and civic work, photos, family letters, and much more. A finding aid for the Pearl Carter Pace Collection can be downloaded here.
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