Harry Vernon McChesney was born in Caldwell County, Kentucky, near Shady Grove, on September 16, 1868. His parents were John Mansefield and Elizabeth Caroline (Simpson) McChesney who were married in Caldwell County on November 19, 1863. He had three siblings, one brother and two sisters. Harry McChesney was educated in the public schools and then attended the Marion Academy in Marion, Crittenden County, Hampton Academy at Hampton in Livingston County, and the National Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio.
In 1888, he began teaching in Crittenden County. Later, he taught in Livingston County, then in Webster County, and then again in Livingston County where he was principal of the Smithland public schools. In 1893, he was elected superintendent of schools in Livingston County, was reelected in 1897, and served until he was elected superintendent of public instruction in Kentucky in 1899. During this period, McChesney became active as an education reformer and occupied leadership positions in education organizations. He also served as editor of "The Livingston Banner", published in Smithland. He began the study of law by entering the law office of Congressman Jack Hendrick of Smithland.
McChesney’s political career was launched by the eloquence of an impromptu speech he delivered at a William Goebel rally in Mayfield in mid-January 1899. Goebel offered him a place on the ticket as candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Elected with Goebel in 1900, he proved to be an energetic advocate of state education reform.
In the fall of 1903, McChesney became the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State; he was elected on the ticket of J.C.W. Beckham. During his tenure as Secretary of State, he also served on the State Capitol Commission. After leaving office, he located permanently in Frankfort, was admitted to the bar in 1908, and began a productive law practice.
In 1915, he entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary, but he was defeated by A.O. Stanley 107,585 votes to 69,722. During World I, he served as the educational director of the Army YMCA at Camp Taylor at Louisville from September 1917 to September 1919. After the war, McChesney returned to Frankfort where he resumed his law practice and became active in many church, civic, and educational activities. Beginning in 1903, when he drafted the bill for an annual appropriation of $5,000 for the Kentucky Historical Society, he was active in its affairs, serving as chairman of the executive committee, first vice president, business manager, and editor of The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. He was a prominent Baptist layman who was a deacon and Sunday School teacher at the First Baptist Church in Frankfort.
Harry McChesney married Bernadette Presnell of Smithland on June 23, 1897. The couple had two children, a daughter, Anne Elizabeth, and a son, Harry V. Jr.
Harry McChesney died on August 15, 1947 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, less than two months after celebrating his golden wedding anniversary. He was survived by his wife, children, and two grandchildren.
Lowell H. Harrison, ed., "Kentucky’s Governors," (2004; first printed in 1985), pg. 146;
Willard Rouse Jillson, "Harry Vernon McChesney, LL.D., 1868-1947: A Life Sketch,” an article published in the "Register of the Kentucky Historical Society," (October 1947), pgs. 291-99;
L. Frank Johnson, "History of the Franklin County Bar," (1932), pgs. 107-8;
Obituary, "Frankfort State Journal," August 16, 1947;
"Kentucky Marriages, 1851-1900";
Mary Young Southard, ed., "Who’s Who in Kentucky," (1936), p. 268.