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Oklahoma's centennial of passage of the 19th Amendment: Remembering Kate Barnard

Elisabeth Slay

On February 28, 1920, Oklahoma became one of 35 states that ratified the 19th Amendment, and by August of that year, women had the the right to vote.

In honor of the 100th Anniversary, The Shawnee News-Star would like to recognize local suffragette Catherine Ann "Kate" Barnard.

According to Tom Terry, former president of the Pottawatomie County Historical Society and Museum, Kate Barnard was the first woman to be elected as a state official in Oklahoma and the second to be elected to state office in America.

"She was an amazing person because she had to undergo so many hardships," Terry said.

Barnard, Terry said, was the first Oklahoma Commissioner of Charities and Corrections and she served in the position for eight years.

"She got more votes than the governor and he didn't like that very much," Terry said. "When they took office in the old State Capital building in Guthrie...They put her on the third floor next to the mens' restroom...(and) the main thing you saw...was the mens' restroom and then her."

During her time as the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, Terry said Barnard was very involved in creating fair conditions for prisoners.

"She went to Kansas and saw the poor conditions the prisoners were living in and she was able to move them to Oklahoma and helped build (a) prison," Terry said.

Terry said Barnard influenced the first Governor Charles N. Haskell to return the prisoners to Oklahoma and it resulted in building the Kate Barnard Correctional Center in Oklahoma City.

In addition to her corrections work, Terry said Barnard was also involved in charity work and often help people who were wronged.

"Toward the end of her first term she got money back for Native American orphans who were swindled," Terry said. "The governor cut her budget (as a result)."

Barnard suffered many hardships, Terry said, from unfair treatment in the government to living in harsh conditions.

"She did amazing work in spite of terrible circumstances," Terry said.

In addition to everything else she did, Terry said, Barnard also participated in the "Shawnee Demands" program, which were meetings between the people and the government and resulted in the basis of the state constitution.

Terry said Barnard was born in Nebraska on May 23, 1875. He lived in Kansas with relatives before moving to Newalla, Oklahoma and eventually Oklahoma City where she went to school, became a teacher and taught until 1902.

Terry said after her political career, Barnard lived in Oklahoma until she died at the age of 55 on February 23, 1930 in Oklahoma City.

"She was actually buried in an unmarked grave," Terry said. "Until some women found out (in the 1980s) and got her grave marked."

Locally, Barnard has an elementary school named after her in Tecumseh. The building is on the National Register of Historical Places. There is also a bronze statue of her on display at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Barnard was also inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame in 1982 for her work in the government and for the state.

Senate leaders commemorate Oklahoma's centennial of passage of the 19th Amendment

OKLAHOMA CITY – Friday, February 28, 2020 marks a pivotal date in the history of Oklahoma and the nation. It’s the 100th anniversary of the day Oklahoma became the 33rd state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

The centennial of that historic day was celebrated Thursday in the Senate as members unanimously approved Senate Resolution 13, co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Kim David, R-Porter, Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

David and Floyd made history in Oklahoma when they became the first women since statehood to hold the posts of Majority and Minority leaders in the First Session of the 57th Legislature. David was also the first woman to serve as Senate Appropriations Chair.

Oklahoma actually approved suffrage two years before passage of the 19th Amendment. In 1917, the State Legislature approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, a proposed amendment to Oklahoma’s Constitution giving women the right to vote, which the citizens approved in 1918.  However, because a minimum of 36 states were needed in order to enact the 19th Amendment, Oklahoma’s support made that possible, ensuring that the right of citizens of the United States to vote could not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

“One hundred years seems like a long time, but then when I stop and remember when my grandmothers were born, women did not have the right to vote, it puts it in a different perspective. Their mothers, their grandmothers could not vote. That happened in their lifetime,” David said.  “When you look at it that way, it really hasn’t been that long ago.  It’s something none of us should ever forget or take for granted.”

Women’s suffrage organizations began fighting for the vote in the 1890’s, well before Oklahoma’s statehood.  Floyd noted women lobbied for suffrage in both the Oklahoma and Indian Territories and at the 1906 constitutional convention in Guthrie.  Ultimately, the constitution gave women the right to vote in school elections, but not full suffrage. Nevertheless, women still had an impact on the state’s political landscape.

“Kate Barnard fought hard for children and for social reforms at the convention, and when voters chose office holders for our new state, Kate was elected Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, becoming the first woman in Oklahoma elected to statewide office, and among the first in the nation,” Floyd said.  “Despite the many challenges they faced, Oklahoma women persevered, impacting our past, present and our future. This centennial marks an important turning point for our state and our country.”

Since the passage of women’s suffrage, Oklahoma women have gone on to win seats in the legislature, Congress, and statewide offices, including governor and lieutenant governor, and have been appointed as cabinet secretaries and to the office of secretary of state.

“Throughout history, women have proven themselves to be extraordinary leaders whose sacrifice, vision, and determination have shaped the course of this nation for the better,” Treat said.  “Women’s suffrage was an important point in the history of our state and nation, and we should always take time to remember and celebrate all of those who worked toward that end.”

“It’s important to remember how hard women fought for suffrage in this country and here in Oklahoma,” David said.  “We can best honor that effort by participating in the political process and taking advantage of our constitutional right to vote.”