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Rededication of Shawnee memorial to suffragist Aloysius Larch-Miller scheduled Sunday

Virginia Bradshaw
A photo of Aloysius Larch Miller, a local suffragist who fought for women's right to vote 100 years ago.

A rededication ceremony will be held at a Shawnee park Sunday to honor Aloysius Larch-Miller, who gave her life in the fight for women’s right to vote 100 years ago. 

The event, set to also rededicate a century-old memorial to the 33-year-old Shawnee teacher, will be 6:30 p.m., Sunday in Larch-Miller Park, directly across from Redbud Park, on the east side of the 900 block of North Broadway.  

The rededication program will begin at the corner of Wallace and Broadway when some 10 to 20 young women, dressed in white with purple and yellow sashes, will act as suffragists and progress north on Broadway to the entrance to the park. The white they will be wearing denotes purity, the purple, loyalty and the yellow, hope.

During the program, Rebecca Fry, of Shawnee Little Theatre, will perform as a suffragist in a reenactment of the early 20th Century campaign to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that grants women the right to vote, ratified 100 years ago.

Who was Aloysius Larch-Miller?

    Aloysius Larch-Miller was born in Jackson, Tenn., in 1886, and moved with her sister and their parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Larch-Miller, to Shawnee in 1902, Marilyn Bradford found while doing extensive research on her background during recent months.

“Her father had a confectionary shop on Main Street. She graduated from Shawnee High School and went on to Central Normal School, which later became the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. She majored in education.”

A plaque honoring Aloysius Larch-Miller, a local suffragist who fought for women's right to vote 100 years ago.

Her full name was Agnes Aloysius Larch-Miller, but she went by ‘Miss Aloysius Larch-Miller’ in her adult years.

“She was beloved by her students and was active in her community,” Bradford said. “She chose to teach in a school on the east side of Shawnee; she wanted to teach in what was then considered the poorest part of Shawnee.”

It was around the World War I era. Miss Larch-Miller and her parents lived in the 700 block of North Broadway. They lived on the corner and she had gardens all around the house. She kept a pair of scissors at the back door and invited children to come by and cut flowers, if they wanted to, Bradford said.

A newspaper photo found in a family scrapbook showed her and her father in the garden. “The cutline said it looked like a ‘backyard living room.’

“According to other clippings we found, she would take her lunch to school and would give some of it to children who didn’t have a lunch to bring. Every fall, she sought children’s clothes and coats and would give them to children who needed them.

“She was probably in her 20s at that time. She taught young children. Bradford found that Aloysius Larch-Miller also helped with Shawnee High School drama productions.

Larch-Miller Park just received a new archway sign as part of a rededication effort honoring its namesake, Aloysius Larch-Miller, a local suffragist who fought for women's right to vote 100 years ago.

“She had gone to the University of Chicago and New York City for drama classes. She was active in the Shakespeare Club, the Oklahoma Women’s Suffrage Association, and was affiliated with the national women’s suffrage association as well,” Bradford said.

Miss Larch-Miller’s most active community service years were 1916, 1917 and 1918, “through to her death at age 33 in 1920, because during World War I she was in charge of selling Liberty Bonds and was very successful. She was awarded a Liberty Bond lapel pin for her work and the letter she received with it stated the pin was made from captured German cannons. It read ‘Liberty Bond Volunteer.’

“She was also an American Red Cross volunteer and because of her teaching background, she was asked by the state superintendent of schools to establish a nursing program.”

Clippings describing her work were from Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Drumright and Guthrie newspapers, as well as Shawnee papers. They showed that she was an excellent speaker.

This is how Marilyn Bradford tells the rest of Miss Larch-Miller’s story:

“She looked forward to summer when she could rest and work on her garden, but the Oklahoma Suffrage Association asked her to be secretary for ratification of the 19th Amendment, which was also referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

“About November 1918, the men who could vote approved a state question allowing women to have the right to vote. After that, Marjorie Schuler, an officer of the national suffrage movement, came from New York City to accompany Aloysius of Shawnee, and Katherine Pierce of Ardmore, on a visit to Oklahoma Gov. J.B.A. Robertson at the state capitol.

“The first day they went to call on him, he was too busy to see them. They went two additional times. He was always too busy, but stated he would not call a special session unless they would cover the cost of the session.

“That would have been in 1919.

“The women sent out letters to the elected legislators asking them to pledge that they would attend a special session and cover the cost. They got a majority of yes votes from the lawmakers. The governor still would not call a special session.

“All of the state counties’ Democratic conventions were being held in 1919. On Jan. 31, 1920, the Pottawatomie County Democratic convention met in Tecumseh. At that convention, they were to vote on the resolution to call for a special session and approval of the 19th Amendment. If the resolution was approved, it was to be held in February in Muskogee.

“State Attorney General S.P. Freeling was coming to the Tecumseh convention. He was opposed to a special session. He had been an attorney in Shawnee; he came to Pottawatomie County and his hometown area but he was also opposed to the 19th Amendment.

“Aloysius was in bed at home, sick with the flu. She had been ill for about a week. Her parents did not want her to go to this meeting on the 31st, which was a Saturday, but she wanted to go. She was secretary of the ratification committee for the State of Oklahoma.

“Attorney General Freeling was known to be a good orator himself, and when he appeared at the Pottawatomie County convention in Tecumseh, Aloysius got up from her sick bed in Shawnee to go down there to debate him.

“We don’t know what was said in the debate; we can find no record of it. But accounts we have read say Aloysius was brilliant and prevailed in the debate. The resolution passed 2-to-1.

“After the debate and the votes were to approve it, it’s said Aloysius’ words were, ‘now it shall be done!’

“On her return from Tecumseh to Shawnee, she grew steadily worse and by the time she got home, she had pneumonia. She died on Feb. 2, at 2:45 a.m.

“It stunned all of Shawnee and much of Oklahoma. 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. The attorney general who had debated her, also came back for her funeral on Feb. 5. All the newspapers that recorded her death called her a martyr for women’s suffrage.

“The governor ended up calling a special election which was held on Feb. 28, 1920. On that day, state voters approved the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma became the 31st state to approve the federal amendment. But to be official, it had to be approved by 36 states. The 36th was Tennessee,” Bradford said.

Many testimonials to Miss Larch-Miller were published in the Shawnee Morning News and Shawnee Herald; an Aloysius Larch-Miller Association was formed because the people did not want her work to be forgotten. Funds were raised for the monument erected in her memory and thousands of letters poured in from people wanting to help perpetuate her memory.

One of the most touching was this one received by a Mrs. B.W. Slagle: “Mrs. Slagle, Me and Bob are going away tomorrow but we are sending $2 for Miss Larch-Miller that we made by cutting grass. It is ours. We pray for her every night. She was so good when Grandma was sick and didn’t have no money. She brought her something to eat and wear.”

Mrs. Slagle said she did not know the boys, but “those two $1 bills, each so neatly folded, accompanied by the note in childish writing, seem holy things to me.”

Scores more similar tributes to her character were received from adults and children, Bradford said.