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Oklahoma Journeys

Governors

2011-01-10

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When Mary Fallon was sworn in as governor of Oklahoma she became the latest in a line of women elected to public office in the Sooner State, including one elected in the first statewide election ever held in Oklahoma. That's the story this week on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

When Mary Fallon took the oath of office, she will have sworn the same oath that her predecessors swore. Before Governor Fallon,twenty-four men served as governor, three of them twice, and one, George Nigh, served as governor on four different occasions.

Women running for public office dates back to our first statewide election in 1907.She was Kate Barnard who was born in Kansas but joined her father in Oklahoma City in 1891 and attended St. Joseph's Academy. She lived on her father's claim near Newalla until she moved to Oklahoma City in 1895 to continue preparations to become a teacher.

In 1904 while serving as a hostess for the Oklahoma exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair, Barnard noticed urban poverty and listened to discussions by social science experts who suggested solutions. Returning to Oklahoma City, she discovered that her hometown also had developed an army of indigents, so she began a career in charity work. Believing that women had political potential, especially in the area of social justice reform, she entered politics in 1907 when Oklahoma statehood was imminent. During the Constitutional Convention she convinced delegates to adopt two reform measures: the prohibition of child labor and the establishment of the office of Commissioner of Charities and Corrections. After the convention the Democratic Party endorsed her candidacy for the position of commissioner, and she won that office by a greater plurality than any other candidate in Oklahoma's first general election, an election in which women could not vote.In 1910 she was reelection by a substantial margin, but her second term proved less successful.

Another woman who achieved early success as a politician in Oklahoma was Alice Mary Robertson. She was born in January 1854 at the Tullahassee Mission in the Creek Nation of the Indian Territory. At the age of eighteen she was sent to College in New York, where she graduated near the head of her class. Shethen worked as a clerk in the U.S. Indian Office in Washington. Returning to the Indian Territory, she taught school at Tullahassee and later at Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1882 Miss Alice again returned to the territory and was placed in charge of an Indian girls' boarding school, an institution which developed into Henry Kendall College (now the University of Tulsa).

In 1920 Robertson rode the coattails of Republican President Warren G. Harding and was elected to Congress from the Second District as a Republican in the heavily Democratic eastern part of Oklahoma. She arrived in the nation's capital with much talk about her being a woman. Only the second woman elected to Congress, Miss Alice was the first woman to preside over the House of Representatives.

You can learn more about our colorful political history by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rdStreet just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.