by Jeri Smalley, Volunteer
Mary McCormick is a leader, educator, political activist, dedicated tribal member, wife, and mother. She is known throughout the state; mention of her name evokes an, “I know her” response from many. A twenty-two year member of the Oklahoma Historical Society, she has donated her papers to the Society, and they are now available to researchers.
Mary McCormick was born in Seminole, OK on January 14, 1932, to Thomas Coker, a full-blooded Seminole, and Frances Walker Coker, a full-blood member of the Sac and Fox Tribe. The second of six children, she attended Seminole Public Schools, graduating from Pleasant Grove High School in 1950. She later attended Seminole Junior College and received a BS from the University of Oklahoma in 1978. She then received a Master of Education from East Central University in 1984 and a Library Media Specialist Certificate from the University of Oklahoma in 1987.
In 1953 Mary married Gwinn McCormick. They have two daughters, Gwendolyn and Shirley Marie. McCormick was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Sac & Fox Tribe in 1969. She served until 1975, when she was appointed Principal Chief by the Business Committee to fill a term vacated by death. She ran for Principal Chief at the end of this term but was not elected for another term. In 1985 she was elected Secretary of the Sac & Fox Tribe and served in that position until 1997. She fulfilled the duties of office, which were considered part-time, while teaching as well as pursuing a number of other community and volunteer activities. When she retired from teaching in 1994, she became the full-time tribal secretary.
The Mary McCormick Papers help fill a void in the Oklahoma Historical Society’s documentation of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. The majority of the papers, dating from c. 1968 to 1997, are comprised of copies of Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma documents including Business Committee and joint committee meeting minutes and meeting packets between 1972 and 1997, General/Governing Council documents from 1977 to 1995, progress reports from 1985 to 1992, agreements and contracts, Bureau of Indian Affairs correspondence, departmental documents, general correspondence and interoffice memos, printed materials including Sac and Fox News, and conference attendance records. Included are two documents Mrs. McCormick wrote, a Sac and Fox Language Primer in 1975 and a Tribute to the Sac and Fox, an historical drama that was presented at the annual Powwow in 1992.
Mrs. McCormick’s involvement in Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity in 1966 and 1967, the National Congress of American Indians from 1973 to 1995, and Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women from 1969 to 1991 is represented with correspondence, minute meetings, conference records, newsletters, and other papers. This includes her involvement in the Miss Indian Oklahoma Pageant. There are also papers and publications about other tribes/nations and general Native American issues.
Another area of the papers includes documents on American Indian education as well as her university training between 1968 and 1988 at Seminole Junior College, the University of Oklahoma and East Central University, and her career in education at Varnum Public School, Wewoka High School, and Horace Mann Elementary School between 1971 and 1995. Information pertaining to her involvement in educator organizations including the National Education Association, the Oklahoma Education Association, and the Seminole County Education Association span the years from 1970 to 1996.
Campaign information, newsletters and correspondence document Mrs. McCormick’s involvement as a long-time Democrat in Oklahoma especially from 1965 to 1997. Her involvement within the Baptist Church is documented between 1979 and 1997. Personal items include letters and cards sent and received from 1973 to 1996, sheet music, speedway programs, as well as letters, holiday cards, and papers pertaining to her daughters and husband.
Mary McCormick’s papers document a full life of service and commitment. The guide to the Mary McCormick Papers is available in the Research Center section of the OHS website at www.okhistory.org/research. It may be accessed at the Oklahoma History Center at the John and Eleanor Kirkpatrick Research Center.