Photograph © Caufield and Shook, Inc./Nat Geo Image Collection
Photograph © Caufield and Shook, Inc./Nat Geo Image Collection
MagazineIn the Loupe

Meet Kentucky’s Prohibition-Era Female Sheriff

Jennie Walker won a sobering race for sheriff after her husband was ousted for corruption.

This story appears in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
View Images

In 1929 Prohibition loomed large over local elections around the United States, including at this county courthouse in Barbourville, Kentucky. Republican sheriff candidate B. P. Walker pledged that he was both sober and qualified (see political poster, inset), but his bid was disqualified on corruption charges.

Jennie Walker, however, was a different story. B. P.’s wife, a Democrat, would soon become one of Kentucky’s first elected female sheriffs. Though Jennie never carried a gun, daughter Doris Broach said in a 1982 interview that as Knox County sheriff, her mom certainly “arrested people when necessary.”

National Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but Barbourville remained dry during Walker’s term and beyond. The town’s change of heart—a vote of 498 to 433 to allow alcohol sales—occurred just this past December.