Kentucky State University said early Sunday that its first female president, Dr. Mary L. Smith-Stowe, died Saturday surrounded by loved ones at home.

Smith-Stowe, who was 84, was the 14th president at KSU.

Dr. Mary L. Smith

Dr. Mary L. Smith

“There are no words to express the enormity of losing a chain breaker, like President Smith,” said Dr. M. Christopher Brown II, current KSU president. “Mary was more than just a pioneer — she was an incredible person. She was admired and known to many as a thoughtful, thorough and well-organized administrator and educator. Mary devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service.”

The Mary L. Smith Clock Tower was constructed in her honor on the campus of Kentucky State last spring. The clock tower is a beacon to students on campus, sitting outside the Paul G. Blazer Library. 

A trailblazer and a longtime advocate for access to education, Smith-Stowe was not only Kentucky State’s first female president but also the first African-American female college president in Kentucky. Smith-Stowe served as president from 1991 to 1998. Before becoming president, she was special assistant to the president and professor of education at Kentucky State.  

Smith-Stowe also previously served as interim president and vice president for academic affairs. She became an assistant professor of education at Kentucky State in 1974, then associate professor of education and acting chairperson of the Division of Education, Human Resources and Technology in 1981. In 1983, Smith-Stowe became dean of the College of Applied Sciences and professor of education.

During her tenure at K-State, two accredited master’s programs were added: public administration and aquaculture. Smith-Stowe also oversaw the establishment of the Center for Diversity and the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans (CESKAA); the building of the William Exum Athletic Center; construction of the Cooperative Extension Building; and renovations to Hume Hall.

Smith-Stowe graduated from Jackson State University in 1957 and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Kentucky. 

Arrangements are pending, as the family is requesting time to plan appropriately due to COVID-19. KSU said it will update the university community, alumni and friends on upcoming tributes to honor Smith-Stowe's life and impact.

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