Shawnee suffragist remembered for 19th Amendment passage efforts
More than 130 area residents gathered at Larch-Miller Park Sunday evening to pay tribute to one of Shawnee's own. A hundred years ago, Shawnee school teacher and suffragist Aloysius Larch-Miller fought for women's rights — specifically their right to vote.
In a string of events typically only seen in a movie script, Larch-Miller's most memorable — and victorious — battle achieved an immense milestone for all Oklahoma — and ultimately all American — women just before her life ended abruptly at age 33.
Already sick in bed for a week with the Spanish Flu, on Jan. 31, 1920, Oklahoma's ratification committee secretary got up determined to debate State Attorney General S.P. Freeling during the Pottawatomie County Convention in Tecumseh. At that convention, they were to vote on the resolution to call for a special session and approval of the 19th Amendment.
Larch-Miller's words did not go unheard.
The resolution passed 2-to-1, offering proof of her victory against Freeling. Immediately afterward, Larch-Miller was reported to have said, “now it shall be done,” but she did not get the privilege of witnessing it.
She died just more than 24 hours later, on Feb. 2, at 2:45 a.m., due to pneumonia.
“It stunned all of Shawnee and much of Oklahoma,” former Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent and event organizer Marilyn Bradford said. “She was well known all over the state particularly for her Red Cross work. The governor had the flags lowered to half-staff and attended her services at St. Benedict’s Church in Shawnee.”
All the newspapers that recorded her death called her a martyr for women’s suffrage, Bradford said.
Sunday's event blended 1920 and 2020 together with some common ties — some purposefully, others coincidentally. Marching down Broadway and into the park, many women were adorned in white, with purple and gold sashes, some in hats, while chanting and carrying signs reminiscent of the suffrage movement. Separated by social distancing requirements and masks due to COVID-19 precautions, more than 130 attendees gathered to remember an important and timely piece of Shawnee history.
Dressed as an early 1900s-era suffragist, Rebecca Fry, of Shawnee Little Theatre, offered an account of Larch-Miller's life as a beloved local teacher and her efforts toward the suffrage movement.
Representing the city, Mayor Ed Bolt officially designated Aug. 23, 2020, Aloysius Larch-Miller Day in Shawnee.
Tom Terry, longtime Beautification Committee member, master gardener and initiator behind the rededication, shared details of the park's recent improvements made just before the event. Flowerbeds, the addition of an arch over the park entrance and rearrangement of the memorial stone were among the new features.
Resident Susan Morris spoke of Larch-Miller's work with the American Red Cross, Dr. Tiffany Nagel-Monroe, of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, gave a benediction and Ronnye Sharp led event attendees in song, which would have been a common occurrence at suffrage rallies.