One for the Oklahoma History Book — Women leaders
Throughout the history of Oklahoma, the roles that women have played have evolved. From few pioneering women in business, politics and other aspects of public life to the civic leaders of today, women have left their mark on the state. The Oklahoma Historical Society celebrates the legacy of these women at its museum and sites.
“2018 marks the centennial of women’s suffrage in Oklahoma,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “On Aug. 5, 2018, an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that granted women in the state the right to vote was ratified by a vote of the people.
“Oklahoma was the 21st state to grant universal suffrage to women, more than two years before the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. Even before they had the right to vote, women actively participated in Oklahoma public life.”
In Park Hill, Okla., the Murrell Family completed construction of a house called “Hunter’s Home” in 1845. Today that house is known as the Murrell Home, and is operated by the OHS. The lady of the house, Minerva Murrell, was the niece of Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross.
According to “Voices of Cherokee Women,” edited by Carolyn Ross Johnston, “Division of labor was gender specific and equal. Land was held communally, but women owned the dwellings, and men lived in women’s homes. Women also held substantial political power in the tribe.”
In the coming year, the home will return to its original name, Hunter’s Home, as a reflection the history of the plantation and the role of women within the Cherokee tribe, said Jennifer Frazee, historical interpreter at the site.
Elva and T.B. Ferguson established the Watonga Republican newspaper, said Cindy Pitts, director of the T.B. Ferguson Home in Watonga, Okla. “T.B. Ferguson died on Valentine’s Day in 1921, and Elva stepped up as editor of the newspaper. That was unheard of at the time,” Pitts continued. “Elva sold the paper in 1930. She acted as technical advisor on the film, ‘Cimarron,’ a movie adaption of Edna Ferber’s novel. The novel was based on the early day experience of T.B. and Elva.”
The Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Okla., presents a major exhibit about the role Oklahoma women have played in journalism and broadcasting, said Director Kelly Houston. Another special exhibit provides an “exciting history of women in Wild West Shows.” The permanent exhibits at the museum showcase what life was like for women and families during the days of Oklahoma Territory.
One woman featured in the exhibit is Lucia Loomis Ferguson, who was born in the Choctaw Nation in 1886. She married Walter Ferguson, the son of T.B. and Elva Ferguson, in 1906. After their marriage, they moved to Cherokee, where they ran the Cherokee Republican newspaper. Lucia wrote a weekly column.
She advocated equality of men and women in the family and in work and politics, said Houston. Following her husband’s election to the State Senate in 1916, Lucia became editor of the newspaper. They sold the newspaper and moved to Oklahoma City, where she became a columnist for the Oklahoma News. Her column, A Woman’s Viewpoint, appeared in other U.S. newspapers.
At the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, the “African American Experience” exhibit features the remarkable civil rights work of Clara Luper. Clara was a teacher and became an advisor to the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council in 1957. She staged a sit-in at Oklahoma City’s Katz Drug Store on Aug. 20, 1958, walking into the store and ordering Cokes at the “whites only” lunch counter. Under her leadership, the Youth Council participated in sit-ins through the early 1960s, helping to end segregation in public accommodations in Oklahoma.
From 1960 to 1980 Luper hosted a radio show, and later she chronicled her fight for civil rights in her autobiography, “Behold the Walls.” She received 154 awards, including the Langston Alumni Award, Zeta Phi Beta Woman of the Year and the National Voter Registration Award.
“Despite early political and social barriers, the women of Oklahoma have worked diligently to have a voice in how business, politics, culture and family life should be conducted,” said Blackburn. “From the women who came to Indian and Oklahoma Territories to start new lives to the community leaders of today, the state has benefited from the perseverance of these indomitable women.”