Frances Jewell McVey was born December 23, 1889 to Asa and Elizabeth Jewell in Harrison County, Kentucky. When she was a small child, the family (including brothers Robert and John) moved to Lexington, where Frances graduated from Sayre College before going to the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College in 1913 and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1918. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Kentucky in 1940.
Frances Jewell McVey held several positions at the University of Kentucky, beginning as a professor in the English Department from 1915-1921, then as the Dean of Women from 1921-1923. In 1923, she married then President of UK, Frank LeRond McVey, and is perhaps best known for her role as the “First Lady of Maxwell Place.” The McVeys were the first President’s family to reside in Maxwell Place and Frances Jewell McVey was widely praised for her graciousness as host of many teas and dinners. Her interest in, and recipes for, traditional Kentucky and Southern foods were well known and publicized, as was her knowledge of gardening.