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Martha Layne Collins
A black and white photo of a woman in her fifties making a speech behind a podium and microphone
Governor Martha Layne Collins giving a speech, November 1986

In office
December 13, 1983 – December 8, 1987
Lieutenant Steven L. Beshear
Preceded by John Y. Brown, Jr.
Succeeded by Wallace G. Wilkinson

In office
December 11, 1979 – December 13, 1983
Governor John Y. Brown, Jr.
Preceded by Thelma Stovall
Succeeded by Steven L. Beshear

Born December 7, 1936 (1936-12-07) (age 73)
Bagdad, Kentucky
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Bill Collins
Alma mater University of Kentucky
Profession Teacher
Religion Baptist

Martha Layne (Hall) Collins (born December 7, 1936) is a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky. From 1984 through 1988 she was the governor of Kentucky, having served the previous four years as lieutenant governor. She was Kentucky's first and only female governor to date. At the time of her election, she was the sixth woman to serve as governor of any state, and the third to win election in her own right.[1] She was considered as a possible running mate for Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election. The 1993 conviction of her husband, Dr. Bill Collins, in an influence-peddling scandal damaged her hopes of making future political endeavors.

After graduating from the University of Kentucky, Collins worked as a school teacher while her husband finished a degree in dentistry. She became interested in politics, and worked on the senatorial campaigns of Wendell Ford and Walter "Dee" Huddleston. She was chosen secretary of the state Democratic Party, and was elected clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1975. During her tenure, the judicial system was restructured, and the Court of Appeals became the Kentucky Supreme Court; Collins continued as clerk of the renamed court. In 1979, Collins was elected lieutenant governor, serving under Governor John Y. Brown, Jr.. Brown was frequently out of the state, leaving Collins as acting governor for more than 500 days of her term.

Collins defeated Jim Bunning to become Kentucky's first female governor in 1984. Her administration had two primary focuses: education and economic development. Her major accomplishment as governor was the use of economic incentives to bring a Toyota manufacturing plant to Georgetown, Kentucky. Toyota continued to invest heavily in Kentucky, and the state experienced record economic growth under Governor Collins. Since her term as governor, she has taught at several universities, and served as president of Saint Catharine College from 1990 to 1996. She was rumored to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate or a position in the administration of President Bill Clinton prior to her husband's conviction. She presently serves on the boards of directors of several companies, including Eastman Kodak; she is also an Executive Scholar in Residence at Georgetown College and the chair and CEO of the Kentucky World Trade Center.


Early life

Martha Layne Hall was born December 7, 1936 in Bagdad, Kentucky.[1] She was the only child of Everett and Mary (Taylor) Hall.[2] When Martha was in the sixth grade, the family moved to Shelbyville, Kentucky and opened the Hall-Taylor Funeral Home.[2] Martha was involved in numerous extracurricular activities in both school and the Baptist church.[2] While in high school, Martha won the title of Shelby County Tobacco Festival Queen.[2]

Hall matriculated to Lindenwood College for one year before transferring to the University of Kentucky.[3] While there, she was elected president of her dormitory and was active in the Chi Omega social sorority.[2] In 1957, Hall met Billy Louis Collins while attending a Baptist camp in Shelby County.[2] Collins was a student at Georgetown College and he and Hall dated as they finished their degrees.[2] Hall earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics in 1959.[3] Having won the title of Kentucky Derby Festival Queen earlier that year, she briefly considered a career in modeling.[2] Instead, she and Collins married shortly after her graduation.[2]

While Mr. Collins pursued a degree in dentistry at the University of Louisville, Ms. Collins taught at Seneca High School and Fairdale High School, both in Louisville.[4] During this time, the couple had two children, Steve and Marla.[3] In the mid-1960s, the Collinses moved to Versailles, Kentucky where Ms. Collins taught at Woodford County Junior High School.[3]

Political career

While in Woodford County, Collins became interested in politics.[4] She became part of a group of reform-minded Democrats who supported Henry Ward's gubernatorial bid in 1967.[4] Next, she was Central Kentucky coordinator of women's activities during Wendell Ford's 1971 gubernatorial campaign.[1] After Ford's victory, he named her Democratic National Committeewoman from Kentucky.[1] She quit her teaching job and went to work full-time at the state Democratic Party headquarters.[4] The following year, she worked for the senatorial campaign of Walter "Dee" Huddleston.[1] Afterward, she was chosen secretary of the state Democratic party.[1]

In 1975, Collins won the Democratic nomination for clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals in a crowded primary.[5] In the general election, she defeated Republican Joseph E. Lambert by a vote of 382,528 to 233,442.[3] During her term, an amendment to the state constitution renamed the Court of Appeals to the Kentucky Supreme Court; Collins thus became the last person to hold the office of clerk of the Court of Appeals and the first person to hold the office of clerk of the Supreme Court.[1] As clerk, she compiled a brochure about the new Supreme Court and distributed it to the general public.[1] Further, she worked with the state department of education to create a teacher's manual for use in the public schools detailing the changes effected in the court system as a result of the constitutional amendment.[1] The Woodford County chapter of Business and Professional Women chose Collins as its 1976 Woman of Achievement, and in 1977, Governor Julian Carroll named her Kentucky Executive Director of the Friendship Force.[1]

In a field of six major candidates, Collins secured the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1979, garnering 23 percent of the vote.[3] She defeated Republican Hal Rogers in the general election by a vote of 543,176 to 316,798.[3] As lieutenant governor, she traveled the state, attending ceremonies in the absence of Governor John Y. Brown, Jr., who disliked such formal events.[5] By the end of her term, she claimed to have visited all 120 counties in Kentucky.[5] Governor Brown was frequently out of the state, leaving Collins as acting governor for more than five hundred days of her four-year term.[6] She also chaired the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors, becoming the first woman to hold that position.[5]

A color portrait of a gray-haired man in his seventies wearing a suit
Jim Bunning was Collins' opponent in the 1984 gubernatorial election

Four years later, Collins announced her candidacy for governor.[3] She had the support of many leaders in the Democratic party, but the primary vote was still close.[3] With 223,692 votes, Collins edged Harvey Sloane (219,160 votes) and Grady Stumbo (199,795 votes) to secure the nomination.[3] In the general election, Collins faced state senator Jim Bunning.[3] Bunning was not personable on the campaign trail and had difficulty finding issues that would draw traditionally Democratic voters to him.[7] His Catholicism was also a political liability.[7] Collins won the election by a vote of 561,674 to 454,650, becoming the first, and to date only, woman to be elected governor of Kentucky.[1][3]

The first legislative session of Collins' term was a difficult one. With the state still recovering from an economic recession, Collins asked for an additional $324 million from the Kentucky General Assembly, most of it directed to education.[3] Legislators refused to raise taxes during an election year, and Collins withdrew her request and submitted a continuation budget instead.[3] Some education reforms were passed, including mandatory kindergarten, remedial programs for lower grades, mandatory testing and internship for teachers, and the implementation of academic receivership for underperforming schools.[8] Among the other accomplishments of the legislative session were passage of a tougher drunk driving law and a measure allowing state banking companies to purchase other banks within the state.[3]

Following the 1984 legislative session, Collins was named chairperson of the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California.[1] She was interviewed as a possible vice-presidential candidate by Walter Mondale before Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro.[8] During a trip to Europe to investigate acid rain, Collins accidentally swallowed a shard of glass requiring intestinal surgery that kept her in a hospital in London for two weeks.[8]

In 1985, Collins called a special session of the legislature to once again push for more funding for education.[3] The funding was approved, reducing class sizes, increasing teacher salaries, and constructing more classrooms.[9] Over the next five years, enrollment in Kentucky's colleges and universities climbed 30 percent.[10] The increased business tax intended to cover the cost of the education increase was inadequate, however.[3] In 1987, a plan to increase revenue through changes in the state income tax was abandoned when Wallace Wilkinson, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, announced his opposition to it.[3] In a special session called in 1987, Collins' plan for financing the state's worker's compensation plan was discarded in favor of one drafted by the legislature.[3]

Collins' major accomplishment as governor was securing state incentives for Toyota to locate its manufacturing plant in Georgetown.[3] The incentives, valued at $125 million and with an ultimate cost of $300 million in bonds, were roundly criticized and some opponents even challenged them in court.[10] The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the incentives were legal, and criticism of the incentives was blunted as Toyota set up several plants across the state.[3][10] The state experienced record job growth under Collins' economic development plan, which included both national and international components.[3] Because of her development of economic ties with Japan, she was named Honorary Consul General of Japan in Kentucky.[11]

Collins served as chair of the Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway Authority and was in that capacity when the waterway opened to the public in 1985.[12] She also chaired the Southern Growth Policies Board, Southern States Energy Board and co-chaired of the Appalachian Regional Commission.[12]

Later life

After her term as governor, Collins served as an international trade consultant.[3] In 1988, she taught at the University of Louisville, and a year later, taught at the Harvard Institute of Politics.[3] On May 10, 1985, she was named to the University of Kentucky Alumni Association's Hall of Distinguished Alumni.[1] After serving on the boards of regents for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Midway College, Collins was named president of Saint Catharine College in 1990, serving in that capacity for six years.[3][12] She served as co-chair of the Credentials Committee of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.[13]

In 1993, Collins' husband Bill was charged in an influence-peddling scandal. The prosecution claimed that while Ms. Collins was governor, Dr. Collins exploited a perception that he could influence the awarding of state contracts and took nearly $2 million from people who did business with the state.[14] He was convicted and sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison.[15] He was also fined $20,000 for a conspiracy charge that involved kickbacks disguised as political contributions.[15] Governor Collins was called to testify in the trial, but was not charged.[16] The scandal tarnished her image, however, and may have cost her an appointment in the administration of President Bill Clinton.[16] Collins was also rumored to be considering a bid for the U.S. Senate, a bid which never materialized following her husband's conviction.[16]

Governor Paul Patton named Collins co-chair of the Kentucky Task Force on the Economic Status of Women in 2001.[16] In 2003, Kentucky's Bluegrass Parkway was renamed the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway.[17] In 2009, she was inducted into the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for her contributions "to strengthening economic and cultural exchanges between Japan and the United States of America".[18]

Since 1998, Collins has been an Executive Scholar in Residence at Georgetown College.[11] In 2003, she received the World Trade Day Book of Honor Award for the state of Kentucky from the World Trade Centers Association, and in January 2005, she became the chair and CEO of the Kentucky World Trade Center.[11] She serves on the boards of directors for several companies, including Eastman Kodak.[11] She has not run for office since her service as governor. Her son, Stephen Louis Collins, ran for lieutenant governor of Kentucky in 1991, finishing third in the Democratic primary.[19] A new high school in Shelby County, scheduled to open in 2010, will bear her name.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Martha Layne Collins". Hall of Distinguished Alumni
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ryan, p. 229
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Harrison in The Kentucky Encyclopedia, p. 214
  4. ^ a b c d Ryan, p. 230
  5. ^ a b c d Ryan, p. 231
  6. ^ Harrison in A New History of Kentucky, p. 417
  7. ^ a b Harrison in A New History of Kentucky, p. 418
  8. ^ a b c Ryan, p. 233
  9. ^ Harrison in A New History of Kentucky, p. 420
  10. ^ a b c Ryan, p. 234
  11. ^ a b c d "Martha Layne Collins". Hall of Fame
  12. ^ a b c "Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins". National Governors Association
  13. ^ "Former Fellow: Martha Layne Collins". Harvard University Institute of Politics
  14. ^ Wolfe, pp. 1A, 12A
  15. ^ a b Wolfe, p. 1A
  16. ^ a b c d Ryan, p. 235
  17. ^ Kocher, p. A1
  18. ^ "2009 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals". Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  19. ^ Chellgren, p. 4A
  20. ^ "Our Schools: Martha Layne Collins High School". Shelby County Public Schools. Retrieved 2010-01-13.  

Further reading

  • Madsen, Susan R. (2009). Developing leadership: learning from the experiences of women governors. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. ISBN 0761843086.  
  • Marshall, Brenda DeVore; Molly A. Mayhead (2000). Navigating boundaries: the rhetoric of women governors. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 0275967786.  
  • Smith, Frances (1991). The little girl who grew up to be governor: stories from the life of Martha Layne Collins. Lexington, Kentucky: Denham Publishing Company. ISBN 0963013505.  
Political offices
Preceded by
John Y. Brown, Jr.
Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Wallace G. Wilkinson
Preceded by
Thelma Stovall
Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Steve Beshear
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Y. Brown, Jr.
Democratic nominee for Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Wallace G. Wilkinson
Preceded by
Thelma Stovall
Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Steve Beshear
Preceded by
Tip O'Neill
Permanent Chairman of the Democratic National Convention
Succeeded by
Jim Wright
Legal offices
Preceded by
Frances Jones Mills
Clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
elective position abolished


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