Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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In 1891, almost thirty years before women's suffrage, twenty-one-year-old Cora Victoria Diehl became the first woman elected to public office in Oklahoma Territory. Running for Logan County register of deeds as a People's Party (Populist) candidate, Diehl endorsed equality for women and African Americans as well as "greenbackism" or the monetization of silver, federal loans to farmers, income tax, and the single tax plan. She helped negotiate a "fusion" of Populists and Democrats that defeated the Republican majority. When Republicans refused to relinquish their seats, the fusion ticket forcibly took control, using dynamite to retrieve the county's official seal from a locked vault. Because of her gender, the Republican Party challenged Diehl's election in the Territorial Supreme Court (Duvall v. Diehl, 1892). Justice John C. Clark declared Diehl "qualified" and "duly elected." In the 1892 election, with a Republican-manipulated, anti-fusion ballot, Diehl lost the African American vote and her bid for reelection. She continued to stump for Populism with the fiery orator Mary Lease of Kansas, and in 1893 Diehl received recognition in Francis E. Willard and Mary Livermore's book, A Woman of the Century: Leading American Women From All Walks of Life. On July 17, 1893, she married J. N. Harvey in Kansas City. After marrying, she faded into obscurity and no record of her death can be found.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Peter H. Argersinger, "A Place on the Ballot: Fusion and Anti-Fusion Laws," American Historical Review 85 (April 1980). Megan Benson, "Reform and Retaliation: Cora Diehl and the Logan County Election of 1891," Oklahoma Politics 4 (October 1995). Robert C. McMath, Jr., American Populism: A Social History, 1877-1898 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993). Worth Robert Miller, Oklahoma Populism: A History of the People's Party in the Oklahoma Territory (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). Francis E. Willard and Mary Livermore, A Woman of the Century: Leading American Women From All Walks of Life (Chicago: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893).

Megan Benson

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