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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


After the Nineteenth Amendment was approved in 1920, women continued to struggle for equal rights under the law. In the 1960s they worked against discrimination in the work place and for equal pay. Cognizant of women's plight and the fact that approximately four hundred bills addressing women's status were pending in the U.S. Congress, Pres. John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10980 on December 14, 1961. The order provided for the organization of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, and he appointed former first lady and U.S. delegate to the United Nations Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the committee.

The president's commission issued a report in 1963 that among other items encouraged states to organize similar commissions. In January 1964 when Gov. Henry Bellmon created Oklahoma's first Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, Oklahoma was the fourteenth state to do so. Future governors reestablished the commission through executive orders until Oklahoma's commission received legislative approval in 1994. Before 1994 the commissions had no permanent status, had a limited budget provided by the governor's office, and had no continuity of plans and goals.

Through the years the number of members appointed to the commission has varied from twenty to ninety. Bellmon appointed twenty women selected from across the state to serve four years. Ettamae B. Reed, a Republican from Noble County, served as the first chair. In 1967 Gov. Dewey Bartlett increased the numbers to seventy. At the turn of the twenty-first century the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women consisted of thirty members, who serve five-year, staggered terms, thus eliminating the lack of continuity. The governor, the president pro tempore of the senate, and the speaker of the house each appoint ten individuals. On July 1, 2002, staff support for the commission was transferred from the secretary of state to the office of personnel management. In 1997 Robert "Bob" Darcy, regents professor of political science and statistics at Oklahoma State University, became the first male commissioner.

The governor's commission acts as an advisory group on equity issues, monitors pending legislation, and serves as a clearinghouse for research on women and gender bias issues. They report annually regarding their activities and make recommendations relating to needed legislation pertaining to equity and gender bias. In addition to their annual reports, the commission has published several specialized reports such as The Representation of Women to Appointive Positions On and Within State Boards, Commissions, and Authorities (1978), Issues Facing Oklahoma Women, 1987–1990 (1990), and Oklahoma Women's Almanac (2005).

Linda D. Wilson


Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women and the Women's Archives at Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Women's Almanac, ed. R. Darcy and Jennifer F. Paustenbaugh (Stillwater, Okla.: OPSA Press, 2005).

"Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Statutes 74:665–669.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Governor's Commission on the Status of Women,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=GO020.

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