Frances Jones Mills, Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1980-84, was born July 4, 1920, in Gray, Kentucky, to Dr. William H. Jones and Bertie (Steely) Jones. Her father was a prominent Knox County physician for more than fifty years. She was a graduate of Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and attended Eastern Kentucky State College. She taught school in Gray for eight years. In 1949 she married Gene Mills, an employee of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company. They had no children and were later divorced.
Mills entered the political arena in 1961 when she ran for the Kentucky House of Representatives and won. She was the first woman and the first Democrat in the twentieth century to hold the seat for the heavily Republican Knox County district. She served one term in the House and then served as assistant to the Speaker of the House from 1963 to 1965. In 1964 she was the Democratic nominee for Congress in the Fifth Congressional District, but she was defeated even though President Lyndon Johnson won the state by a large margin. She worked for Kentucky Civil Defense from 1965 to 1972. In 1971, she won the nomination for Clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and was elected to her first statewide office. In 1975, she was elected State Treasurer, a position she eventually filled for three terms—1976-80, 1984-88, and 1992-96. From 1980 to 1984, she served as Secretary of State. She was defeated for statewide office only twice—in the 1987 and 1995 Democratic primaries when she ran for nomination for Secretary of State.
Mills was often the subject of controversy, particularly while serving as State Treasurer. In 1984, she and six people who had served on her staff in the Secretary of State’s office were indicted on campaign-related charges stemming from her election the previous year to her second term as Treasurer. The indictments alleged that the defendants had improperly used state employees and facilities. The case dragged on for two years, and eventually Mills and the other defendants were acquitted.
During her last term in the Treasurer’s office, Mills was charged with violating state ethics laws involving such things as the use of state employees for personal errands and accepting tickets and trips from companies with an interest in state business. The Executive Branch Ethics Commission fined her $11,000 and reprimanded her for “flagrant indifference” to the public trust. She had appealed the commission’s ruling, and the case was pending at the time of her death.
Mills died of cancer on May 24, 1996, at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. She was buried at Highland Cemetery in Williamsburg. Even in death she became the subject of controversy. A will executed in 1989 left her estate to her alma mater, Cumberland College. A will that she supposedly signed with an “X” two days before her death designated no beneficiaries but gave one of her former aides authority to distribute the estate. On December 15, 2000, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that the second document was not a valid will because it specified no beneficiaries.
"Lexington Herald-Leader," October 4, 1994, and December 16, 2000;
"Louisville Courier-Journal," October 14, 1994, June 7, 1995, November 1, 1995, and May 25, 1996;
"Who’s Who in the South and Southwest," 19th ed., 1984-85 (Chicago, 1984).